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Why Rep. Castro says Trump is making migrant detention centers worse

The circumstances for migrants held in U.S. custody continue to stir national controversy. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, has visited detention facilities and was appalled by what he saw there. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why conditions have gotten worse for detained migrants, what should happen to Border Patrol officials implicated in a Facebook scandal and how he’s pushing for change.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For a firsthand account inside the migrant detention facilities, I spoke with Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas. He is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and he organized their tour yesterday.

    Congressman Castro, thank you very much for joining us.

    You and the other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were at the border yesterday. We know conditions there have been bad for a long time in these facilities to hold migrants. Are they worse now?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    They have gotten worse under the Trump administration, because the administration really hasn't made an effort to move people out of the system quickly, for example.

    Rather than moving them out of the system, they're holding them for longer periods of time. So, for example, some of the women that we visited with from Cuba yesterday, some of them have been in the facility for over 50 days.

    They'd gone, some of them, 15 days without being able to take a bath or a shower. They're existing on — subsisting on ramen noodles and granola bars. Their sink in the cell wasn't working. So, except for bottled water that they could get from outside, they didn't have drinking water in the cell.

    They also didn't have water to wash their hands after they went to the restroom. So, things have gotten worse because of how this administration has approached this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You took your own video with your own smartphone device to record what you were seeing. Why did you do that?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    Well, we asked the Border Patrol folks what law prevents legislators who have oversight authority over these agencies from documenting what's going on.

    And the Border Patrol chief, Chief Hull, could not cite a specific law. There was also an attorney who was present, and she also didn't cite any specific law. So I don't believe that they have the authority to keep legislators, members of Congress, who are supposed to oversee these agencies, I don't think they have the authority to keep us from documenting what's going on there, most especially because they don't allow the press in.

    And they don't allow the press to talk to any of these women or these children or others who are being detained there. So, if you don't let the press in, and you're also saying that you're not going to let the legislative branch in, then you're basically asking the country to allow you to patrol yourself. And that's just unacceptable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you — how does someone get to the bottom of what conditions are like there? You obviously saw a lot of this with your own eyes.

    Some of the members of the caucus said they believed it had been cleaned up, straightened up, knowing that you would be coming to visit. But my question is, how do you get to the bottom of it? Obviously, the administration is saying a lot of these worse descriptions are just not true.

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    Well, there's a very easy way to handle that.

    Number one, there's a lot of video. There are overhead cameras all over the facilities. So there's a video that comes out or could come out of the facilities. And also they could let the press in. They could let the press in to document these things.

    And if they're going to oppose the accounts that we have given about what the women told us or what the women experienced, there's an easy way to resolve that. There's a tie-breaker. And it's called the press.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you know, we and other news organizations have been trying to get in, but very limited access with cameras.

    What is the bottom line for you, Congressman? What do you want for these migrants that they don't have? We know the legislation was just passed to get more money to care for them, but what more are you saying they need?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    Well, I think their rights to apply for asylum need to be respected.

    They need to be moved out of these facilities as quickly as possible. They're being held way too long, unnecessarily. And rather than moving them out of facilities, the Trump administration is paying these contractors, some of whom are making billions of dollars, to keep these people there longer and longer.

    And that's just something we shouldn't be doing. We need to change that system. It's also not just a matter of cash. Like I said, they're not getting the medical treatment they need. They're not getting the proper standards of care. So it's not just a matter of pumping more cash into a broken system. It's also about changing these standards.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when you call on these things to happen, and the administration doesn't move, what should happen? What happens?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    You're right, Judy. It's very difficult, because it basically — what we tried to — we made a strong push to change the standards in this last supplemental bill, but you basically run into the buzz saw of Mitch McConnell, who controls the Senate, and then President Trump, who's not sympathetic to these asylum seekers.

    So there are many people in Congress, and of course, among the American people that want to see these things change, but we're in divided government right now. And you have got a lot of people who either are unwilling or simply don't care enough to change the way things are going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You also have, as you saw at one of the news conferences you and the other members had near the border, near El Paso, protesters who showed up and were shouting some fairly ugly language at members of Congress.

    Is the public reaction, do you think, more hostile than it was?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    It seems that way.

    This is the first time that I have been part of a press conference like that, where people are so visceral in their reactions. Particularly, they were all wearing "Make America Great Again" hats, and some people had the Trump flags, Trump 2020.

    Obviously, they have a right to protest, but there is this visceral anger in them and a disrespect — I mean, forget the politicians, but a complete disrespect for the human beings who are inside that facility who are simply trying to petition for asylum, which is legal under U.S. and international law.

    And I think Donald Trump, because of the way he is, because of his behavior and rhetoric, has given these people license to be as mean as they want to be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There was also a report, Congressman.

    As you know, ProPublica reported on a secret group of border agents who were sharing racist and offensive comments about the migrants. What should happen to these individuals involved? Are you confident the administration is going to handle that situation as it should be?

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    Well, they should be fired.

    Everybody who made those vulgar and vile comments, who threatened the members of Congress, who made light of migrants who are dying crossing in the river, and made all these other remarks, they are desensitized, to the point of being dangerous to the people in their custody and to their co-workers.

    And, really, if you look at what they said, they're not fit to wear any uniform that represents the United States of America. And I expect that CBP will do a thorough investigation, and get rid of the people responsible, and that the Congress will also do its own investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Joaquin Castro, thank you very much for joining us.

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    Thank you.

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