Reps Outraged at "Inhumane" and "Dystopian" Conditions at Border
Willful neglect of human rights fuel funding effort
Amid recent reports of abuse and neglect at U.S.-Mexico border facilities housing detained migrants, a delegation of state and federal lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, toured holding stations in El Paso and Clint on July 1 to see the squalid conditions firsthand. During a press call organized by United We Dream later in the week, Castro said it was "clear that human rights were being neglected." He saw no working sinks or easily obtainable drinking water in the facilities. Some detainees had not been given their medication in days; others had not been able to shower in 15 days. Other lawmakers on the call noted a lack of fresh food and no opportunities to exercise.
No matter how sizable the funds that go toward border security, the problem will persist unless the entire system is reformed, said Castro. "It's not just a matter of an overwhelmed system or pumping more cash – the system is completely broken, and that's by design," he said. "The standard of care and the whole system needs to change. We are seeing willful neglect of these people."
In an interview with the Chronicle following the tour, Talarico described the conditions as "inhumane" and "dystopian." The two Border Patrol stations are meant to be temporary holding cells but have taken on more migrants than they can handle for longer periods of time than usual, leading to cramped spaces and fewer resources to go around. There were up to eight women clustered together in small, jail-like cells with concrete floors in the El Paso facility, noted Talarico. As the holding station is meant for short-term use, there is no recreation room, no outdoor time; those held are only released to take showers. For some, it likely feels like there's no end in sight: A guard privately divulged to Talarico that some women have been held for up to 40 days. Others had been pregnant and given birth in the facility. A group of families who were scheduled to be deported back to Mexico looked "very scared," said Talarico. One group was quarantined; a window in their cell was marked with the word "flu" in blue letters. When lawmakers asked the on-staff physician assistant if medical care in the facility was adequate, he replied, "No comment."
"It was dystopian and felt very surreal," says Talarico. "These are conditions I would never let my aunt, mother, or child be left in, and this is being done in our name. It was pretty shocking to see." He continued, "These folks are not criminals, they are not dangerous threats – they are families seeking to build a better life." Since Border Patrol has refused to accept humanitarian supplies like diapers and toothbrushes, Talarico is using his campaign funds to match donations up to $2,020 to LUPE (La Unión del Pueblo Entero), an organization doing immigration-focused legal defense work to keep families together. "The best thing we can do right now is send money to the grassroots groups that can empower advocates who work on the ground to help the situation every day."