New details about the conditions of migrant detention facilities operated by the US Custom and Border Protection are starting to emerge. After a visit at the facilities in El Paso, Texas, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described shocking conditions adding that authorities were using “psychological warfare” against the detained migrants. Cortez also alarmingly noted that these detainees had to drink from toilets. She also complained that there was no accountability from the CBP. Her efforts to raise concern over the issues were met with “laughter.”
The CBP denied all these claims. One official who spoke to the New York Post said that migrant detainees weren’t drinking out of the toilet bowl. The official added that the detention centers have prison style toilets where the “drinking water is dispensed through a small fountain attached to the toilet as part of one single unit.” Some pictures that have appeared online actually show how these fountains look like. One photo tweeted by Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an immigration lawyer and policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, showed the combo of the toilet and the drinking fountain as described by CBP officials. The tweeted pictures were obtained from court filings and other inspections of these facilities.
But that’s not the whole story. One of the photos showed a filthy toilet which had an out of order drinking fountain. Court filings by immigrants also suggest that they have been occasionally forced to drink out of the toilet bowl. One migrant detained with his seven-year-old son noted in the filings that CBP agents didn’t provide any drinking water for the entire duration that they were detained at a facility in El Paso.
Ocasio-Cortez claims were, of course, met with some skepticism. Some Twitter users were quick to note that drinking fountains built into the toilet unit are not uncommon. They also noted that the drinking fountains are clearly marked “potable water.” However, Ocasio-Cortez said that even though she saw these units, most of the drinking fountains were actually damaged. She added that because of this, migrants were told to drink from the toilet bowl.
The Trump administration has insisted over the last few months that there’s a growing migrant crisis in the southern border. The president has in fact used these claims as justification to declare a National Emergency in an effort to secure funding for the border wall. But many Democrats think that the tough stance taken on immigration by the current administration doesn’t represent US values. The White House came under fire just recently after it emerged that border patrol agents were separating families at the border. The president then signed an executive order claiming that he had stopped separations and blamed Congress on the same.
Pictures of filthy detention facilities and claims that migrants are drinking from toilet bowls will elicit sharp reaction across the country. White House counsel Kellyanne Conway has already denied these claims and called congresswoman Cortez a “liar.” But it’s clear that the issue is not going to go away any time soon.