Competing narratives on how immigrant children are being treated in border facilities continue to emerge as a group of evangelical pastors and Democrat members of Congress reflected Monday on what they saw during separate border visits.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told reporters Monday that he is saddened by the “misinformation” published in the media last week about the conditions facing detained migrant children temporarily held at Customs and Border Protection facilities.
On a press call, he explained that he, too, was shocked last week after reports based on lawyers’ interviews with 60 detained children highlighted terrifying conditions facing children in overcrowded border detention centers in Texas.
The CBP detention centers are facilities where undocumented immigrant children are supposed to be held temporarily before being transferred to long-term shelter facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But reports from news outlets like The New York Times and The Associated Press painted a horrifying picture of children being detained for days and weeks while being denied basic hygiene items, being forced to sleep on concrete floors and not being able to bathe.
Rodriguez, a leading Hispanic evangelical who has ties to the Trump administration, said he demanded last week that the White House grant him and a group of pastors affiliated with the largest Latino evangelical network in the country immediate access to tour the Clint border facility where the attorneys had been.
The group of pastors toured the facility for about an hour last Friday. While Rodriguez says there was not an area of the facility that they could not access, they were not allowed to interview the children being detained.
“I read the reports, saw the news clips,” Rodriguez, a California megachurch pastor, said. “To my surprise, I saw something drastically different from the stories I’ve been hearing in our national discourse. Even as a veteran of immigration advocacy in the U.S., I was shocked at the misinformation of the crisis at the border.”
“What did our visit reveal?” Rodriguez asked. “We found no soiled diapers, no deplorable conditions, and no lack of basic necessities.”
Rodriguez, who has not shied away from speaking out about Trump’s immigration policies, explained that he was “full of indignation” when he first read the mainstream media reports last week. The New York Times report quoted one lawyer saying that children were being “locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long.”
“Here is what I discovered. They [the lawyers] never toured the facility. I want to make this clear. They never toured the areas that we toured. It all came via the conduit of interviews,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez added that he even asked Border Patrol agents if they staged the facility for the pastors’ visit because of all the negative press the CBP had received in the days before. Rodriguez said border agents “unequivocally denied” such an accusation.
“Even my conspiracy mindset kicked in for a second: did you all stage this for us?” Rodriguez, 49, asked. “Unequivocally, the pushback was pretty measurable there and it was, ‘Absolutely not, you are looking at what existed when the attorneys came here to interview those kids.’”
The reports last week indicated that there were over 350 children held in the Clint, Texas, facility. As CBP facilities are not equipped to provide long-term care, children are legally only supposed to be housed in those facilities for 72 hours before being transferred to an HHS facility.
After the reports came out, nearly 250 children were transferred out of the Clint border facility to an HHS facility. However, about 100 children sent to the HHS facilities were returned to the overcrowded CBP facility in Clint last Tuesday because of the lack of space.
A CBP spokesperson said that the Clint facility was being used as a “consolidated” holding facility “to streamline transfer to HHS and to accommodate separate holding areas based on age and gender,” according to The Washington Post.
During the call, a reporter asked Rodriguez to comment on reports that some detainees are migrants forced to sleep on cement floors.
“No one is sleeping on cement whatsoever. There were three-tiered cots for the older kids. The younger kids had even better areas actually,” Rodriguez said.
“I am in no way creating a moral equivalence to my following statements. I am just giving you an example. It looked a lot more like as if it were a summer camp environment as it pertains to snacks being ready, cots, that sort of thing, television stations,” he continued. “It looked more like that than anything else. Again, it’s not an ideal world because it is still a detention center. It had that sort of vibe, that sort of atmosphere to it.”
Rodriguez said he was even taken to a storage area where he was shown all the hygiene and clothing items at the center.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith