Democratic lawmakers pay tense visit to Texas migrant facility

Democratic members of Congress visiting a Clint, Texas, Border Patrol station to denounce mistreatment of migrants were greeted with harsh words and insults from Trump supporters as well tense interactions with Border Patrol agents.

Activists used racist language against Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibCNN, MSNBC said 'racist' more than 4,100 times from July 14-21 Trump says 'Squad' and Dems have 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' over impeachment 2020 RNC host city Charlotte condemns Trump's 'racist and xenophobic' remarks MORE (D-Mich.), a member of the 21-strong Democratic delegation convened by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The protesters, who also chanted "Trump 2020," made derogatory references to Tlaib's Muslim faith, and one man yelled for her to "go back to [her] country." Tlaib was born in Detroit.

ADVERTISEMENT

Members were at the station run by Border Patrol, a division of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to investigate reports of mistreatment of migrants.

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who spoke at a press conference following the tour, told The Hill there was tension between members of Congress and the officials assigned to show them the facility and provide security.

"There was definitely some bad blood between the members and the agents," said Barragán, pointing to one incident in particular.

Lawmakers were asked to relinquish their phones before entering the facility to prevent them from taking pictures, but once inside, an agent tried to take a surreptitious selfie with a member in the background.

"That's why we don't feel safe with them," Barragán said.

Members asked officials present whether the protesters could be removed for being disruptive or whether a question-and-answer session with members of the press could be held on federal land to avoid interruptions.

Both requests were denied.

"CBP played no role in organizing or running the press conference per the Hatch Act," CBP spokesman Roger Maier told The Hill in an email.

Tensions were already high following reports about a private Facebook group where people believed to be Border Patrol agents made multiple racist and sexist remarks, including against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Trump's risky bid for attention Conservative former NFL player says Trump met with him to discuss 'black America' Louisiana police officer fired after saying on Facebook that Ocasio-Cortez 'needs a round' MORE (D-N.Y.), who also spoke at the event.

One protester had earlier invoked Ocasio-Cortez's name as Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanGiuliani: Mueller should not testify before Congress Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' House gears up for Mueller testimony MORE (D-Pa.) spoke, criticizing her "green deal bullshit," a reference to the Green New Deal.

When Ocasio-Cortez herself stepped up to the microphone, she was greeted by competing chants of "AOC!" from supporters and boos from protesters.

In a series of tweets after the visit, the New York Democrat decried what she saw inside the Clint facility, including the fact that migrant women told her they expect to be punished by officials for speaking to the lawmakers.

The visit was arranged in response to reports of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the Clint facility, following an earlier visit by lawyers conducting inspections under the terms of the Flores Agreement, a court settlement that delineates how federal officials should treat migrant detainees.

The members, speaking after their tour of the facility, questioned if they'd seen the true conditions at the center or whether they'd been shown a sanitized version.

"I know that the Flores attorneys who talked to 60 kids talked the truth. This system is broken and the Border Patrol was just trying to show what they wanted to show: lots of supplies, and also I think that they reduced the number of children for this occasion," said Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuDemocrats celebrate announcement on citizenship census question Ocasio-Cortez says 'humane' shelters have space following visits to border facilities Democratic lawmakers pay tense visit to Texas migrant facility MORE (D-Calif.).

Preliminary reports indicate that the number of migrants crossing from Mexico to request asylum in the United States dropped in June, following an agreement President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE reached with Mexico to increase immigration enforcement south of the border. 

Part of the deal expanded the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, by which Central American asylum-seekers are sent to Mexico to wait out their immigration court cases.

Congress last week passed a $4.6 billion supplemental emergency package to help CBP, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement deal with the record numbers of migrants.

Barragán said the lack of migrants at the detention center showed that Congress's rush to approve funds was misplaced.

"I asked [an agent], 'What are you going to use this supplemental money for?' And he just stared at me with a blank stare," said Barragan.

"It was a very heated, uncomfortable visit," she added.