As criticism mounts of President Donald Trump’s policy of separating children from parents trying to cross the southern border, Vermont Rep. Peter Welch toured the country’s largest immigration detention center on Sunday.
Welch and other lawmakers were in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of young migrants are reportedly being held under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of arresting anyone attempting to cross the border illegally. The policy calls for separating children from parents who are subject to prosecution.
“You see the policy of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and Jeff Miller (sic) that basically is saying ‘we’re going to separate the child from parent’ and it’s appalling,” Welch. “It’s not American. It’s unnecessary.”
Media were able to tour the facility Sunday, but they were barred from taking any pictures or video. US Customs and Border Patrol said privacy concerns prohibited the taking of photos or video.
ABC News reported that the agency released a handful of government images for publication.
The warehouse-like facility has holding pens made from chain-link fences on the inside separating the immigrants. Mattresses with thermal blankets were strewn on the floors.
Federal officials said the immigrants were only being processed and wouldn’t be here longer than three days, but lawmakers reported they’d been told by immigrants within the facility that they had been there for seven.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who first visited the South Texas border on June 3, described his second visit as more coordinated for Customs and Border Protection officials who gave the tour.
“We did see the children who were held inside here,” he told CNN’s Ana Cabrera in an interview.
“In wire-mesh, chain linked cages that are about 30×30, a lot of young folks put into them. I must say though, far fewer than I was here two weeks ago.
“I was told that buses full (of children) were taken away before I arrived. That was one of my concerns, that essentially, when you have to give lengthy notice, you end up a little bit of a show rather than seeing what’s really going on in these centers.”