After hearing reports of crowded and unsanitary conditions, a delegation of Congressional and state lawmakers visited facilities in Texas housing detained migrants.
State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) joined the delegation. State of Texas host Josh Hinkle spoke to Talarico about what he saw.
TALARICO: “We toured two border patrol facilities, one in El Paso and one in Clint. The one in El Paso mainly houses immediate family units–mom, dad and a child–and also single females. The Clint facility houses children–anywhere with 15 month old to 18 years old. We toured both and I was struck by the conditions that the conditions that these folks were being held in. Seven to eight women held in a single jail-like cell that wasn’t much bigger than this little studio area that we’re in right now. All they were given were government supplied thin, blue sleeping bags for a hard concrete floor, no furniture. When I first walked in I looked at one of the security monitors and saw all these things strewn along the floor and I realized they were human beings being held in these tiny rooms. And the border patrol agents told us that these holding facilities are not meant to be long term jails or prisons they’re meant to be processing centers like a police station. So these facilities are not meant to have people there for extended periods of time. The women, there’s no time period for them to go outside, no rec period, no rec yard they just leave for a shower otherwise they’re in these cells for an entire day. The standard I use is, would I allow my child, my parent, my grandparent to be held in one of these facilities? And the answer after my visit was a resounding ‘no.'”
HINKLE: “Your district is in central Texas – far from the border. Why go? What are you hearing from the people you represent?”
TALARICO: “First, I believe this is a statewide problem. This is a stain on all of our reputations. It really violates a lot of the values we have as Texans, and so, I decided to go because it’s a statewide problem. And frankly, my constituents asked me to do something about this, they may not have families directly tied to this situation but they still believe in keeping families together and not abusing children. We have decent folks who live in central Texas in Williamson County and they want their lawmakers and their leaders to do something about this crisis.”
HINKLE: “This tour – all the lawmakers were Democrats. In Texas, if you want to get anything done, you have to have Republican support. Have you or any of your fellow Democrats been reaching across the aisle? What have you been hearing from the other side?”
TALARICO: “I have talked to some of my Republican colleagues because I have expressed concern about this. Obviously we need more than just concern, we need moral outrage, we need immediate, clear, decisive action from our lawmakers at the federal level and at the state level. When children are being abused and neglected and families are being torn apart in our name as Texans, we have to do something about it quickly and decisively. So part of going on the tour was seeing with my own eyes what was occuring. Now we have some decisions to make at the state Capitol about ‘how are we spending close to a billion dollars a year on border security?’ when these border patrol agents are telling us they don’t have the resources. Basic, logistical items that would help make this situation better for them and the folks that are being held.”
HINKLE: “You’ve been critical of the $800 billion dollars the state spent on border security, where do you think it could go?”
TALARICO: “I get the sense that this is used for posturing and political pandering. A fancy gunship on the Rio Grande looks good in a campaign ad, but what these border patrol agents told me is what they need is 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. So they’re caught between an incredibly big rock, and a very hard place and in the process, human beings are being neglected and abused. And everyone, no matter your poltiical persuasion should be outraged by that.”
HINKLE: “A lot of people see the reports from the border – and they hear Democrats blaming Republicans, and Republicans blaming Democrats. A lot of folks are sick of the politics. They want to see action. What do you think needs to happen now to improve the situation?”
TALARICO: “Everyone’s against child abuse no matter where that child comes from. This is something that unites Republicans, Democrats, Independents and non political people. Especially when its being done by our own government, by our own elected officials. So, I hope that this can be an issue where we come together as Americans and stand up for our values. We’re here on July 4th and this is what we celebrate what our country stands for–freedom, liberty, opportunity and we remember on the Statue of Liberty where it says right at the base of the statue: ‘give me your tired, give me your poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ And I feel like that’s something most Americans still believe in and I just wish our elected officials still believed in that vision of our country.”
HINKLE: “State lawmakers are obviously out of the legislative session and don’t return to the Capitol until 2021, unless there’s a special session called. What do you want to do right now?”
TALARICO: “My colleagues are holding hearings at the State Capitol in a couple of weeks to start gathering information. Groups like the Mexican-American caucus have already been leading on this issue since last year since this occured over the summer. So I want to follow the lead of these folks on this issue and provide support to them to try and find a policy solution. We have to, this is not a matter of some bad apples at a border patrol station this is a systemic problem that even the Border Patrol agents identified as morally wrong and needed to be solved. When you see a facility that is meant to house 100 children housing 700 children and that facility only has two shower, I think every Texan should be troubled by what is being done by the Trump administration in our state.”