Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquin Castro On His Visit To Detention Facility

Jul 2, 2019
Originally published on July 2, 2019 6:36 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

So let's focus next on another aspect of the immigration issue - the state of migrant detention facilities on the border. Members of Congress visited two of them in Texas yesterday. They spoke to migrants being held there who described going weeks without a shower, drinking water out of a toilet and not having access to medication. Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro was one of the lawmakers who visited. He chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. And when I spoke to him today, I asked what surprised him most.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Well, just the conditions that these people were being kept in, especially the women that we visited with. There was a group of women from Cuba, and some of them said they hadn't bathed or showered in about 15 days. One of them said that she had epilepsy and had not received her medications. Some of them said they'd been separated from their kids, and they didn't know where their kids were. And as we inspected the cell, we noticed that the sink wasn't working, that there wasn't running water for them to drink. The toilet was working, but, of course, there was no way for them to wash their hands. And so all of these things really surprised us and in a way shocked us.

KELLY: Were you able to speak freely with the migrants being held there?

CASTRO: Yeah. We asked for some time to be able to speak to them alone. And unfortunately the Border Patrol agents and officers stayed at the door while we were able to talk to them.

KELLY: You have visited, I'm assuming, many border detention facilities before. This was at a different level in terms of the conditions that you saw yesterday compared to what you've seen in past visits.

CASTRO: I don't know that this is necessarily at a different level. When I visited a facility in New Mexico a few months ago, there were women in that facility and children who told us that they didn't have water. And so what I would say the difference is this time is that we actually had time to spend talking to the people that are being detained there and hearing their stories and also inspecting the cells for ourselves.

KELLY: As you were touring these facilities, ProPublica broke a story about a private Facebook group with nearly 10,000 members of current and former Border Patrol agents. And these members were posting vulgar, racist, misogynistic comments about your fellow lawmakers, jokes about migrant deaths. The head of Border Patrol has condemned these posts as inappropriate. Customs and Border Patrol says it is investigating. Do you feel there needs to be a response beyond that?

CASTRO: Yeah. I don't think that any of those people that made those vulgar and vile comments deserve to wear any uniform representing the United States of America, and they should be fired.

KELLY: I mean, what do you make of this? It's hard to dismiss a group of 10,000 agents as just a few bad apples. But you must know and have worked closely with Border Patrol agents for years now. I mean, what is your sense of what this tells us about the culture?

CASTRO: I think the Border Patrol has a real culture problem. And the bad part has overtaken the good part. And there are many good agents who work very hard to take care of the people that are in their custody, but they're overwhelmed in what has become a morally bankrupt system. And they're also often challenged and intimidated and made to go along by those rogue agents that were part of that Facebook page.

KELLY: One question is funding. And as you know, Congress just approved $4.6 billion to be sent to the border to address humanitarian issues such as the ones you saw on display at these facilities yesterday. You did not vote on that bill. Having seen what you just saw, does that still feel like the right decision?

CASTRO: Right. No, I had voted for the House version of the bill, but the Senate version of the bill did not have the same guardrails put up in a way that I am uncomfortable with.

KELLY: The House version, we should explain, would have had more strict protocols in terms of how this money would be spent and ensuring humanitarian conditions.

CASTRO: Right. And so basically what we need to do is move people out of that system faster. You've got to invest in caseworkers to get people out. You've got to invest in more judges, things that move people through the system faster. Instead, what's happening is that we're paying for more detention beds both on the ICE side for adults but also on the children's side with HHS or ORR. So instead of moving people faster through the system, there's more emphasis on just detaining people longer.

KELLY: But these agencies - all the acronyms you just listed say a huge part of the problem is they don't have the money to house these people in the conditions that they would like. So by not voting to send cash their way, how does that help the people you saw yesterday?

CASTRO: Well, we've given them billions and billions of dollars. I mean, their budget has continued to grow, but they've poorly mismanaged money. It's not just a matter of money. It's how you spend that money. For example, why would you be spending money on a big border wall when there's people in those cells that haven't taken a bath in 15 days, when you're feeding them ramen and granola bars? That's not just a matter of cash. That's a matter of misplaced priorities.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you.

CASTRO: Thank you.

KELLY: That is Democrat Joaquin Castro of Texas. And we should add that this afternoon, the Homeland Security inspector general warned about dangerous overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. The report says the prolonged detention of migrants requires, quote, "immediate attention and action." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.