Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests were planned for several U.S. cities Sunday.
Meanwhile, immigrants at the southern border with Mexico are being held in dangerously overcrowded detention centers as they hope to enter the country. Some of those centers have come under intense criticism because of inhumane and unsanitary conditions.
Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern visited two of the facilities in Texas on Saturday. He joined WBUR's Weekend Edition host Sharon Brody to discuss what he witnessed.
On what he saw at the detention centers
What I observed was something that, quite frankly, should not be happening in the United States of America. And it is — I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and what I saw was quite frankly the opposite.
I don’t blame the border patrol people who are on site. I mean, they’re carrying out their orders. But we saw cells that were way overcrowded — cells meant to accommodate people for maybe a day or two, where people were telling me they were there for over 60 days, hadn’t showered, hadn’t brushed their teeth. Some were dehydrated, some were feeling sick and the lights are on for 24 hours a day and they’re unable to sleep. This is not America. This is not what we should tolerate and quite frankly, this is all as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which I think are cruel and inhumane.
On visiting the same facilities that Vice President Mike Pence visited a day earlier
I think Vice President Pence has been hanging around his boss too long. He doesn’t know how to tell the truth. And the bottom line is I saw it with my own eyes. And I actually posted the videos I took of the people in the overcrowded situations that they were in. And I’d also say, look, there are a lot of our border patrol agents who themselves are traumatized by what they’re witnessing. I talked to a couple of them who are deeply disturbed by the situation down there.
And if Vice President Pence really wanted to do something, he would basically redirect money from the wall to providing better facilities along the border and helping process refugees who are seeking asylum, but we’re not even complying with our own laws when it comes to asylum. If you’re seeking asylum, you have a well-founded fear of persecution. That means you’re fleeing for your life. That means that if you return, you believe you will be killed. So that’s how desperate these people are. They’re waiting, they’re waiting — they’re hoping that we will enforce our laws the way that they were written. But this administration has basically destroyed all of that, and it really is very sad.
On criticism of the Obama’s administration's immigration policies
Under the Obama administration, things were not perfect. In fact, I had traveled to the border when Obama was president, and I had criticized him for the way they were handling unaccompanied minors coming into our country. But under the Obama administration, you didn’t see what we witnessed in our visit, which is this terrible situation where these tiny cells are overcrowded and people are forced to stay there — not just for days but for weeks, and in some cases, for months. ... So I’m not here to say that everything that President Obama did on immigration was right. There we some things that I had problems with. But this is a whole different story. This is vastly different.
I don’t trust this administration to spend the money that Congress gives them in a way that is consistent with human rights norms or with protecting the children. They don’t care about the children.
On why he voted 'yes' on the House bill for emergency supplemental funding at the border and 'no' on the Senate version
I voted against the one that ultimately passed, which was the Senate version, because it didn’t have any protections. But I voted for the Democratic alternative — which, again, was not perfect but I think would have guaranteed that the money that we approved would go to the children, would go to improve their conditions, would go to helping place them out of custody and into the community. That’s why I voted for that. I couldn’t vote for the final version, the Senate version, because there were no protections and I don’t trust this administration to spend the money that Congress gives them in a way that is consistent with human rights norms or with protecting the children. They don’t care about the children.
This article was originally published on July 14, 2019.
This segment aired on July 14, 2019.