Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Other Democrats Reject “Staged” Tour of Migrant Detention Facilities

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resisted efforts by Customs and Border Protection officials to limit her access to migrants detained in El Paso, Texas.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attends a tour Border Patrol facilities and migrant detention centers for 15 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 1, 2019 in Clint, Texas. (Photo by Luke MONTAVON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read LUKE MONTAVON/AFP/Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ayanna Pressley took part in a congressional fact-finding mission at migrant detention centers in Texas on July 2, 2019. Photo: Luke Montavon/AFP/Getty Images

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Join The Conversation