AUSTIN (KXAN) — When State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, arrived at migrant holding facilities in El Paso and Clint this week he looked up at a the security monitor in the lobby of the building and saw “things” sprawled across a concrete floor of a tiny room. It didn’t take him long to realize those “things” were human beings.
“I was struck by the conditions these folks were being held in,” Talarico said during an interview for the State of Texas politics program. “Seven to eight women held in a single jail-like cell that wasn’t much bigger than this little studio area. All they were given were government-supplied thin, blue sleeping bags for a hard concrete floor, no furniture.”
Talarico was part of a delegation of state and Congressional lawmakers allowed to visit the facilities.
The holding facility in Clint, an El Paso suburb in Rep. Mary Gonzales’ district, has drawn national scrutiny over unsanitary and inhumane conditions and she said it’s damaging the image of her community.
“My district has been at the forefront of this issue for over a year. We’re home to the most humble, loving, compassionate people and this is not what we want our community to be known for but that’s what we are known for,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez blamed the problem in her district on the Trump administration’s policies that she said criminalize immigration and lead to the separation of families.
“When families came over they would separate the children from a tia, aunt or a grandmother, or a brother or sister. So even when they say they’re ‘unaccompanied minors’ they’re not,” Gonzalez said. “They’re coming over with family, but because of the new rules they’re separated from their family.”
As the influx of children to the holding facilities has grown, nearing 700 children in a facility meant for 120, Gonzalez said border patrol agents in charge of the facilities have been given no help or resources by the federal government.
“There are border patrol agents who are just trying to figure out how to make it work,” Gonzalez said. “They’re telling the higher up, ‘we have a problem.’ We have too many kids please take them out. And they didn’t give them any resources, no beds not even enough tools.”
Gonzalez said state lawmakers should take steps to address the humanitarian crisis on the border. She said the 1,000 national guard troops Gov. Greg Abbott sent down to the border last month can take on a humanitarian role and assist border patrol in other ways, like building more beds for children, improving facility conditions and regularly monitoring sites.
Talarico said the $800 million dollars in the state’s budget for border security can be spent on “logistical items” and address the needs of border patrol agents instead of “a fancy gunship on the Rio Grande.”
“They need bus drivers, transportation, air support. They need things that are basic, logistical items and they’re not getting it from the state government, or the federal government” Talarico said. “They’re caught between an incredibly big rock, and a very hard place, and in the process human beings are being neglected and abused.”