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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday described the abysmal conditions she and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other House Democrats saw after visiting two immigration detention facilities in Texas, and said she'd learned that Customs and Border Patrol officers told detained women to "drink out of the toilets."
“After I forced myself into a cell w/ women & began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ — waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc.,” she wrote. “Tell me what about that is due to a “lack of funding?”
Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was part of a delegation of more than a dozen House members who toured two centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas.
"We came today and we saw that the system is still broken," said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, at a press conference after their tour. "These are the conditions that have been created by the Trump administration. These are the inhumane conditions that folks are facing," he said, as he and the other lawmakers were trying to speak above the din of hecklers shouting, "America First!"
Rep. Marc Veasey, also from Texas, wrote on Twitter, "we found children barely older than toddlers in cells; families that had been separated from one another; holding centers that were little more than animal sheds, with chainlink fences and pad-locks used to lock up men, women, and children."
The congressional members' tweets and comments to reporters came hours after Pro Publica reported that 9,500 Customs and Border Patrol agents had participated in a Facebook group replete with jokes about migrant deaths and sexist comments about lawmakers, including Ocasio-Cortez. NBC News has not independently verified this Facebook group and has not seen the posts.
“I see why CBP officers were being so physically and sexually threatening towards me,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets.”
“This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress,” she added.
Castro, who told reporters that the Pro Publica report "shocks the conscience that these agents are entrusted with the lives of anybody in their custody," corroborated Ocasio-Cortez's tweets, stating that the group encountered a group of around 15 mothers — some of whom had been housed in the facility for more than 50 days — living in "indefensible" conditions.
"When we went into the cell, it was clear the water was not running," Castro said. "One of the women said she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet. These are the conditions folks are facing."
Ocasio-Cortez said she saw officers laughing and issued a complaint with their supervisors, but was told that the officers were “under stress and act out sometimes.”
Last week, the House passed a $4.6 billion emergency funding bill to provide resources and support for the influx of asylum-seekers on the southern border after learning that the facility in Clint was housing minors without providing adequate food or access to soap or toothpaste.
Later, speaking to reporters after leaving the first facility, Ocasio-Cortez pushed back against the narrative that the poor conditions could be attributed to a lack of resources.
“There’s abuse in this facility," Ocasio-Cortez told KTSM, NBC News’ El Paso affiliate. "This is them on their best behavior? And they put them in a room with no running water, and these women were being told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., wrote on Twitter, "We were met with hostility from the guards, but this is nothing compared to their treatment of the people being held. The detainees are constantly abused and verbally harassed with no cause. Deprived physically and dehumanized mentally - everyday.This is a human rights issue."