WASHINGTON -- Democrats pivoted Wednesday from a fight over a border bill to what they label the government's "willful neglect" and "callous" treatment of thousands of detained migrants, even as President Donald Trump defended Border Patrol agents and said many people being held "are living far better now than where they came from."
Democratic anger was fueled by lawmakers who reported overcrowded, unsanitary conditions at south Texas detention facilities they visited this week, observations that a report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general seemed to confirm. In addition, the fallout continued over a Facebook group for Border Patrol agents that included flippant posts about migrants perishing in U.S. custody and references to two female House Democrats as prostitutes.
The posts threaten to tarnish the Border Patrol's image at one of the most challenging times in its 95-year history. On Wednesday, Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan called the posts "disturbing" and "inexcusable" in a tweet and reiterated that an investigation into the page was planned.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the firing of Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of the federal Customs and Border Protection Agency. He said the reports of migrants' plight and the Facebook group "paint a picture of a toxic culture" and said Morgan and other agency leaders "are too callous about the way in which children and their families are treated."
Morgan took the agency's top post about a week ago after then-acting Commissioner John Sanders resigned after an outcry over the revelation that children were being held in miserable conditions at one of the agency's Texas facilities.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee planned a July 12 hearing on the treatment of detained families and the conditions under which they are held. The Democratic-led panel has invited Morgan and McAleenan to testify.
In addition, the House Judiciary Committee was planning its own hearing this month to examine conditions for holding migrants, but it was unclear who the witnesses would be and when it would occur, a panel spokesman said.
"What we're seeing is willful neglect of these people," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Castro and other members of that caucus toured two Texas detention facilities this week. He later released a cellphone video he secretly recorded showing women sitting on sleeping bags on what appear to be concrete floors.
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Trump defended Border Patrol agents, saying they "are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses," and made no concessions about the conditions at detention centers. The administration has long said federal agencies trying to cope with the growing flow of migrants across the southern border were overwhelmed and based its request for the $4.6 billion border package that Congress approved last week on the need to improve those facilities.
"Many of these illegals aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions," he wrote.
Trump also said the best way to address the flood of people from Central America trying to enter the U.S. is to "tell migrants not to come into our country unless they are willing to do so legally." And he expressed anew his preference for admitting people based on their education and professions, not family relationships to people already in the country, adding, "This way we have no problems at all!"
The $4.6 billion border bill's approval last week split Democrats between those saying it lacked sufficient constraints on how the administration would use the money and others saying it was more important to quickly provide the funds.
Information for this article was contributed by Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/04/2019
Print Headline: Democrats rip border detentions