McALLEN, Texas (Nexstar) — In a return to Texas, Vice President Mike Pence saw what he expected: overcrowded processing facilities.
“I was not surprised by what I saw,” Pence said at a news conference during his visit. “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed.”
Pence, along with Second Lady Karen Pence and a group of Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, toured a detainment facility in Donna in which migrant children were being held, and a Border Patrol station in McAllen where hundreds of adult migrants were located as they awaited processing.
“The facts are, we have a crisis on our southern border driven by human traffickers exploiting loopholes in American law to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous journey north,” Pence said at a roundtable discussion at the McAllen facility.
Pence said he visited at the request of the President, to get a first-hand look at conditions inside these facilities, amid claims of overcrowding and mistreatment of detainees.
He repeated that the “crisis is real,” referring to illegal border crossings and the multitude of legal asylum claims.
“But what’s not real,” he said, “is the slanderous allegations of heartless mistreatment by Customs and Border Protection. I can see it in your eyes, I can hear it in your voice, about the care and concern.”
Pence said he was “deeply moved” by Border Patrol Agents’ “noble work” caring for migrants in detention. He said the agents have “extraordinary compassionate professionalism.” He said it was “heartbreaking” to hear from children at the Donna facility, some of whom told him they had walked for two to three months before arriving at the facility.
“Customs and Border Protection personnel are doing their level best to provide humanitarian care to vulnerable families that are swept up in this crisis,” he said later.
At the Border Patrol station in McAllen, Pence was shown a room that housed detainees packed into holding areas surrounded by chain-link fencing, and silver blankets scattered on the concrete floor. A group of men shouted to news cameras “No shower, no shower!”
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who participated in the tours, said he is spearheading legislation to inject 500 more immigration judges into the system to speed up asylum claims, and called on Congress to fund more beds for migrants.
“If we have to build tents 10 miles long to keep them in custody because Congress won’t provide the beds we are going to build the tents,” Graham said at a press conference following the McAllen station tour.
The Vice President’s visit was met with protests.
Local non-profit La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), a community group focusing on social services, organized a demonstration outside one of the detention centers in McAllen.
“There’s all kinds of necessities that are not being met for these human beings, yet [lawmakers] come and they view and they see and then they go back to Washington and nothing is changing,” said LUPE’s executive director, Juanita Valdez-Cox.
“We are here to urge this administration to close down these camps in detention centers and figure out a solution that does not include abuse of these human beings that are searching for a better life,” she explanied.
“Rather than pointing fingers and grandstanding on Capitol Hill…the President and I are willing to roll our sleeves up to bring about changes that will bring an end to this crisis,” Pence said.