Updated at 11:58 a.m. ET
Vice President Pence visits the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday as a House panel heard testimony from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and others about conditions at facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security.
At the Capitol, the House Oversight Committee heard from Republican lawmakers who represent border districts and from Democratic lawmakers who have recently traveled to the border.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. disputed charges that some of those being held and a Border Patrol facility in Texas were forced to drink water from toilets. “Please, American public,” Lesko said, “there is no one asking people to drink out of toilets.” She referred to a video from the Arizona Border Patrol showing an agent touring a facility and drinking water from a sink above a toilet unit.
But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who made that accusation in a news conference after visiting a Texas CBP facility earlier this month, stood by her claim. After taking the unusual step of asking to be sworn in before testifying — something not required of the lawmakers — Ocasio-Cortez said when some of the women being held at the facility said they were told to drink from a toilet because the sink was broken, “I believe these women.”
Ocasio-Cortez said there were American flags hanging at all of these facilities. “That children being separated from their parents in front of an American flag, that women were being called these names under an American flag,” she said. “We cannot allow for this.”
The panel also heard testimony from the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general, Jennifer Costello, whose office found “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention in Border Patrol facilities requiring immediate attention” during a trip to visit Border Patrol facilities in Texas last month.
The Director of Columbia Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Elora Mukherjee spoke about the dozens of detained children whom she and her colleagues interviewed in June at the Clint Border Patrol facility in Texas.
“I was and I remain shaken to my core by what I witnessed at Clint,” said Mukherjee, who has been working with detained families and children on the southern border for 12 years.
Meanwhile, Pence is traveling to McAllen, Texas. And he said he will be bringing TV cameras.
“We’re going to let people see the facility — a facility that is providing care, providing hygiene, providing health care and support,” the vice president told reporters on Thursday, according to a pool report. “But we’re also going to see a system that is overwhelmed.”
Pence said that although he invited the entire Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats apparently would not accompany him.