Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resisted the efforts of Customs and Border Protection officials to prevent her from speaking directly to migrants detained in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, forcing her way into a cell filled with women during a congressional delegation visit.
Emerging from the facility, Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter that one of the detained women “described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ — waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc.”
Ocasio-Cortez told reporters, in Spanish and English, that conditions at the facility were unacceptable and condemned the behavior of the officers she encountered there. The detained women were held without access to running water, Ocasio-Cortez said, and were “told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez @AOC speaks on what she says is happening inside a migrant detention facility in El Paso.https://t.co/ijMOXInWW1 pic.twitter.com/v86QINh80f
— KFOX14 News (@KFOX14) July 1, 2019
The comment set off a furious debate online, as conservative trolls tried to argue that a kind of combination sink and toilet installed in some CBP cells, which have been described by immigrant rights advocates as filthy and disgusting, are perfectly acceptable.
Ocasio-Cortez replied later that the cell she forced her way into had no working sink, and the detained women there were instructed to drink from the toilet bowl.
This was in fact the type of toilet we saw in the cell.
Except there was just one, and the sink portion was not functioning – @AyannaPressley smartly tried to open the faucet, and nothing came out.
So the women were told they could drink out of the bowl. https://t.co/rcu9Rt6B2x
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 1, 2019
As the Democrats left to inspect a second detention facility — a CBP station along the Mexican border in Clint, Texas, where detained children have described appalling conditions — the pro-Trump Washington Examiner tried to cast Ocasio-Cortez as overly aggressive. Another member of the delegation, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, responded to the report by accusing CBP officers of leaking “misinformation,” and described Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to break away from the agency’s “staged” tour as entirely appropriate congressional oversight.
.@AOC refused the rest of the staged @CBP tour so we could talk with 13 detained women in tears over lack of access to medicine, showers, their children & basic decency. https://t.co/GjqbulJ7gf
— Joe Kennedy III (@joekennedy) July 1, 2019
Kennedy added that officials at both facilities were “very resistant to congressional oversight. They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video. Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative.”
Although the CBP pressed the members of Congress to surrender their phones before the tour started, at least one camera was smuggled in, by Rep. Joaquin Castro, the Texas Democrat and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair who organized the visit.
Here’s another photo from inside taken by @JoaquinCastrotx, where we’re trying to comfort women trapped in cells.
This woman was telling me about her daughters who were taken from her – she doesn’t know where they’ve taken them.
We held & listened to them. They were distraught. pic.twitter.com/ca1GwKfDfU
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 2, 2019
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez said she felt menaced by the officers at the El Paso detention center. “I was not safe from the officers in that facility,” she told a reporter.
”In that vast facility, I was not safe from the officers in the facility.” –@AOC pic.twitter.com/oK67AZ61Eh
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) July 1, 2019
After the visit to Clint, Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, denounced what they had seen, speaking over a din of abusive comments from Trump supporters gathered nearby.
"What we saw today was unconscionable," @AOC says during visit to border facility. "No woman should ever be locked up in a pen, when they have done no harm to another human being. They should be given water. They should be given basic access to human rights." pic.twitter.com/AcdwvmJQxG
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) July 1, 2019
Rep. Rashida Tlaib had to endure a pro-Trump heckler yelling "We don't want Muslims here either," "We don't care about Sharia law, we care about Jesus Christ," "Go care about your own country." Video of the scene in Clint: https://t.co/kL9tTbXV93 https://t.co/mxv7Bb1SRf
— Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) July 1, 2019
The visit came just hours after ProPublica reported that Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers have recently been the target of racist and sexist slurs on a Facebook group used by CBP officers.
According to A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, members of the 9,500-member secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked “about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.”
The agency promised an investigation of the Facebook group. Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner for the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said in a statement that officers are “expected to adhere to CBP’s Standards of Conduct, Directive No. 51735-013A both on and off duty, which states, ‘Employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. This includes comments and posts made on private social media sites.'”
Member of the delegation to the border, including Rep. Nanette Barragán of California, and Joaquin Castro, whose twin brother Julián is running for president, called on CBP to fire all of the active officers trading slurs about migrants and members of Congress on the secret Facebook group.
The comments made by @CBP officials about migrants and Members of Congress are reprehensible. Under no circumstance should United States law enforcement officers use such hateful, sexist and racist language. Anyone who was on this secret Facebook page should be fired immediately.
— Nanette D. Barragán (@RepBarragan) July 1, 2019
These agents don’t deserve to wear any uniform representing the United States of America. https://t.co/O4cqUErjjG
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) July 1, 2019