IE Congressman Pete Aguilar On His Visit To Immigrant Detention Camps

Jul 3, 2019

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Inland Empire Congressman Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) visited three immigration detention facilities in El Paso, Texas Monday, and spoke to KVCR about what he saw.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper has more.

Congressman Pete Aguilar was part of a congressional delegation that visited three facilities: an Office of Refugee and Resettlement Facility, an El Paso border station, and a facility which handles unaccompanied children.

Aguilar said he witnessed substandard conditions for both adults and children. 

Aguilar: “I'll tell you the piece that kind of stuck with me was, these children who were basically in a similar prison-like facility, there was very little differentiating the facilities that we visited that housed individual women versus unaccompanied children. They both had doors that locked, they were both cinderblock facilities with kids sleeping on sleeping bags or on the hard floors. One of the young people, probably about 3 years old, slid a dry-erase board underneath the door, just in a very playful way. And so we drew a smiley face and drew a couple things on there and slid it back, I don't think Border Patrol was wild about that interaction, but it was very human and we wanted to see the young man smile. And he smiled and he was laughing at us, but it was unfortunate. We spoke with the single women in the El Paso facility, they told us that they have an inability to access their medication at times, they told us that they had not had showers in two weeks, they told us that Border Patrol had not treated them correctly over the prior few days, and that they had just only recently been moved into this cell and that prior, they were outside of the facility.”

Aguilar says that the standards of care at these facilities needs to be raised.

“We need to raise the standards of care. I'm sure Border Patrol will tell you that they're meeting or exceeding - and I heard the Customs and Border Patrol Deputy Director say that they were meeting and exceeding those goals that they have - my response would be that those goals aren't sufficient enough. I don't believe that those goals meet basic humanitarian standards as far as what temperature what individuals are in, how many hours a day they are allowed to recreate, how many calories per day, how many times they are allowed to shower, basic hygiene items that you see the Department of Justice arguing in court aren't necessary to provide. All of those things should raise the standards of care, improve these facility conditions and hold contractors accountable. If there are contractors involved in the system, we need to hold them accountable if they aren't meeting those standards.”

However, Aguilar stopped short of describing what he saw as “concentration camps,” a term used by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to describe the facilities.

Aguilar: “I'm not going to use that term but I will say that these are facilities that are prison-like. I think it's truly unfortunate that individuals don't have an ability of more freedom of movement or that standards of care are not what they should be. We can and should do a lot better in how we treat these individuals who are seeking lawful and legal asylum. We should help expedite the process, help ensure that they have court dates in a reasonable way, and many of them have relatives in the United States that they can stay with while their cases are adjudicated. But in the meantime there is a lot more that we can do to help these individuals.”

For KVCR News, I’m Benjamin Purper.