Vice President Mike Pence accompanied Lindsey Graham and other Republican senators on a tour of two migrant detention centers in Texas on Friday in an effort to downplay the horrifying conditions that thousands of migrants—including children—are being held in.
At the first center, in Donna, TX, things went mostly according to plan. According to The Washington Post, facilities at that location were only two months old. About 800 people were detained there, while the site has a capacity for 1,000, according to NBC News.
After the first tour, Pence said he “couldn’t be more impressed with the compassionate work that our Customs and Border Protection are doing here at this border facility.”
At the second facility, in McAllen, TX, things were a little different. According to the Post, the vice president “saw nearly 400 men crammed behind caged fences with not enough room for them all to lie down on the concrete ground. There were no mats or pillows for those who found the space to rest. A stench from body odor hung stale in the air.”
Pence noticed the smell. He tilted his head back and folded his arms in a defensive posture. He listened as a Border Patrol official, fidgeting with his own hands, described the situation. A group of men packed like sardines behind a chain-link fence shouted, “No showers! No showers!” Pence quickly left.
The vice president’s goal, at Donald Trump’s behest, was to discard the testimony of people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers, lawyers, and human rights advocates, who have likened conditions at border detention facilities to those of concentration camps.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez did something unusual by insisting that she be sworn in before testifying before the House Oversight Committee about her visits to border detention facilities. She did this so that Republicans couldn’t continue to accuse her of lying about the deplorable conditions, including detained migrants being told to drink toilet water.
In McAllen, Pence refuted the use by Ocasio-Cortez and others of the term “concentration camps” to describe migrant detention facilities.
In response to what he had seen, heard, and smelled, Pence said, “I was not surprised by what I saw,” the Post reported. “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed.”
“This is tough stuff,” he added.
Pence, like Trump, blamed Democrats, and then he claimed to have been “deeply moved” by the “care that our Customs and Border Protection personnel are providing.” He added that he was equally “inspired by the efforts of Customs and Protection doing a tough job in a difficult environment.”
Deeply moved. Inspired. But not by the plight of those held in subhuman conditions, which are state-sanctioned human rights abuses. Rather, by those who are guarding the detainees. The ones who had a private Facebook group that mocked dead immigrants and counted among its members the head of the Border Patrol.
Yes, concentration camps.
It isn’t just Democrats talking about the “tough stuff,” either. A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults” in Rio Grande Valley facilities, including in McAllen.
Children at three of the Border Patrol facilities inspectors visited had no access to showers. Some adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week, while others were held in cramped conditions for over a month.
“We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained,” the report noted. One senior facility manager called the situation “a ticking time bomb.”
For his part, Graham, forever Trump’s lap dog, echoed Pence’s praise of border officials. “They are heroes,” the South Carolina senator said.
Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would introduce a resolution thanking the border officials “for their honorable service under the most difficult of circumstances.”
Immigration attorney Hope Frye, who spoke with NBC, had a good description of Pence’s and Graham’s downplaying of the conditions at border facilities, calling it “depraved indifference.”
Depraved indifference, indeed.