Vice President Mike Pence visited a Border Patrol detention facility in Texas on Friday evening. The image of him in a blazer, blithely looking through a chain-link fence at hundreds of people, forced to stand in an overcrowded, confined space with no room to lie down, is destined to be one of the seminal representations of the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants coming to the United States, many of whom are seeking asylum.
New video shows severe overcrowding of men in cages at Texas detainment facility during VP Pence's visit Friday.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 13, 2019
After visiting the first detention center, constructed a few months ago, Pence dismissed the idea that the migrants were receiving anything less than stellar care, blaming Democrats for the “harsh rhetoric from Capitol Hill.”
“And while we hear some Democrats in Washington, D.C., referring to U.S. Customs and Border facilities as ‘concentration camps,’ what we saw today was a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of,” Pence told reporters after the visit. Sitting in the background of one of the photos he shared on the Vice President’s official feed was a little girl, alone and for the moment, ignored, as highlighted by The Nation’s Joan Walsh.
Look at the tiny girl sitting alone in the background of your photo op @VP and tell us about the "excellent care" she's getting. Stop trying to fool us with your performative Christianity. You're not fooling God. https://t.co/mXieXsuOwU
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) July 13, 2019
After he toured the second facility, which brought him face to face with the crowded mass of people behind the chain-link fence, the reality of the situation became less avoidable, and Pence pivoted to saying that the Trump administration has been trying to fix things in spite of congressional Democrats.
“But remember for the last six months, Democrats in Congress said it was a manufactured crisis. And it was all we could do to finally get the Democrats in Congress to agree to give us additional funding to deal with this crisis,” Pence told Pam Brown in a CNN interview Friday evening.
Pence has been Vice President for over two and a half years. His boss, President Donald Trump, has run the executive branch during that time, and up until seven months ago, his party ran Congress. With unified legislative control, the Trump-Pence administration did not get any immigration bills passed through a compliant Congress.
No, Mr. @vp, it is not time to secure the borders your way. You say you are a Christian. It’s time for you to act like Jesus & welcome immigrants & the poor & hungry or face the repudiation of the people & the judgement of God. https://t.co/VOM5GfPPRw
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) July 13, 2019
Trump began his candidacy talking up the existential threat posed by immigrants from Mexico and Central America, calling them drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, and he continued that rhetorical assault into the presidency. His policies once in office were centered around deterrence and zero tolerance — meaning that the goal was to make the already-harrowing experience of trying to reach the United States so repugnant for people that they would stop trying. This resulted in “kids in cages,” family separation (sometimes permanent), massive childhood trauma, and detention camps that visitors liken to concentration camps.
Confronted with this reality, Pence turned away. He blamed Democrats. He did not take any kind of ownership or responsibility for the manifestation of the problems his administration escalated, or offer any kind of solution apart from the same rhetoric about securing the border Trump has been broadcasting for years.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) noted Pence’s reaction to the conditions he saw, while cameras were rolling, was to talk about the “compassionate care” he saw. Beyer called it “just abominable.” He said that Pence and Trump are purposely making conditions worse, and they could stop it.
We are working to expose and stop human rights violations at the border, but everyone needs to know that Pence and Trump are making these problems much worse on purpose. They separate families and detain asylum seekers in huge numbers for political reasons. They could stop it. https://t.co/NpUQNLmfgQ
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 13, 2019
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) volunteered to testify under oath before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Friday about her experiences visiting a detention center.
“It is a policy of dehumanization implemented by this executive administration, laid at the feet of Stephen Miller, that creates a tinderbox of violence and dehumanization where hurt people hurt people,” she said.
Donald Trump tweeted Saturday morning about “one of the most horrible abuses of all,” but he was not talking about detention centers. He was talking about some alleged FBI cover-up involving deleted texts from Mueller staffers.