Democrats visiting three detention facilities in Texas on Monday had to raise their voices—despite having microphones—to be heard over the shouts and heckling of pro-Donald Trump, anti-immigrant groups.
“Keep yelling. This is very appropriate. Vile rhetoric for vile actions. Hateful rhetoric for hateful behavior. Racist words and venom for racist policies,” Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) shouted back at the crowd.
Tensions have been building over the past month over conditions at border facilities. On Monday, those tensions escalated as Democrats spread word of the conditions they witnessed, and as new reports circulated of disturbingly violent, racist, xenophobic and sexist comments from current and former Border Patrol agents.
The latter was published by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, on Monday, and captured posts from a secret Facebook group, “I’m 10-15”—Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”
In the posts, group members joked about throwing burritos at women lawmakers (whom they referred to as “bitches”) and speculated that a recent photo of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down dead in the Rio Grande was a hoax.
“Have y’all ever seen floaters this clean,” wrote the group member.“I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS, could this be another edited photo.”
The story gained traction as a delegation of congressional Democrats visited border facilities in Southwest Texas and reported back about the troubling conditions they found.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was a frequent target of the group’s most disgusting, sexist posts, was among the lawmakers touring the centers on Monday, as was Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), chair of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.
“That was a vulgar, disgusting and vile page,” Castro told reporters, according to NPR. “That shows, unfortunately, that there are many within CBP who’ve become desensitized to the point of being dangerous to the migrants in their care.”
The posts point to a culture where migrants and their advocates are frequently mocked, derided and dehumanized. Lawmakers pointed to the conditions at the country’s detention centers—which have been compared to Nazi concentration camps—as evidence of a xenophobic and violently negligent environment.
Ocasio-Cortez, citing conversations with women being held at Border Patrol facilities, said migrants were being told to drink out of toilets because faucets were not functioning.
The toilets she was referring to were likely a dual fountain/toilet combination, but as Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst for the American Immigration council points out, the conditions of these toilets are the issue. Sharing photos of a CBP toilet from 2015, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick wrote, “There was no trash can. Soap dispensers were often empty. Let me ask: would YOU drink from that water fountain?”
He noted that the conditions of those detention centers today are likely worse than they were in 2015, before a massive influx of migrant families fleeing violence and instability in Central America began crossing the border.
Rep. Castro repeated similar claims; migrant women he spoke with said they hadn’t been allowed to bathe in more than two weeks.
“Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy,” he wrote in a series of tweets.
“There are many good agents—men and women working earnestly to care for the people in their custody,” he added. “But they are overwhelmed in a system that is morally bankrupt and challenged by rogue agents whose culture was on full display in the Facebook group revealed by ProPublica today.”
Lawmakers speaking outside of the facilities were visibly emotional as they spoke of the conditions they encountered in front of the jeering crowd of conservative protesters.
“This is bigger than a funding debate, or about any speeches we give here or on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Pressley said. “This is about the preservation of our humanity. And this is about seeing every single person there as a member of your own family.”
Her voice straining with emotion, Pressley continued, “I am tired of the health and the safety, the humanity and the full freedoms of black and brown children being negotiated, and compromised, and moderated.”
“Boo-hoo!” shouted one protester in response.
As the Post writes, when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), delivered remarks, one protester shouted at her, “We care about Jesus Christ. We don’t care about Sharia law.” Tlaib is one of three Muslim lawmakers in the House.
“I will out-love your hate,” Tlaib responded. “You can all scream at me. I will never stop speaking truth to power.”