♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Before El Paso became a target... >> This is now one of the top ten deadliest mass shootings... >> The gunman told police, "I came here to kill Mexicans."
>> NARRATOR: It was a testing ground for immigration policy.
>> This is an invasion!
>> This was in fact a pilot program for that zero tolerance family separation.
>> NARRATOR: "Frontline" investigates... >> The government is trying to break their spirit so that they don't even try to claim asylum.
>> NARRATOR: "Targeting El Paso"-- tonight on "Frontline."
♪ ♪ (man panting) >> MAN (in Spanish): (people shouting) >> Help!
>> We need CPR!
We need CPR!
♪ ♪ >> SMITH: The first call came from a Walmart on the U.S.-Mexican border at 10:39 a.m. (gunshots bang) The killing spree lasted several minutes.
22 people dead.
♪ ♪ Many of the victims were Mexican-Americans.
Eight were from El Paso's sister city, Juárez.
>> I know that Walmart really well, and I know who shops there-- it's a very popular destination for Mexican shoppers coming legally across the border.
>> Hands up, hands up!
>> So I knew the place was going to be packed with Mexican shoppers, and also with El Paso families because school was getting back in session.
>> This is now one of the top ten deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
>> The suspect alive in police custody.
>> SMITH: The suspect was Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas.
What did you learn about the shooter at that time?
>> Not from El Paso.
700 miles away in the Dallas area.
I heard about his diatribe, his screed, whatever you want to call it.
Um, I did see that, he said he fully expected to die.
And in reality, he surrendered as a coward.
>> SMITH: A four-page manifesto appeared online 19 minutes before the attack.
>> If you look at his rant, he chose El Paso because this is where the Hispanic invasion of Texas is happening.
"They're taking our jobs, they're coming to replace us."
The gunman, when he was taken into custody, told police, "I came here to kill Mexicans."
♪ ♪ (feedback screeches) >> Mic check test, one two three, three two one, one two three, three two one.
>> Thank you all for joining with us here today.
My name is Greg Abbott, I'm the governor of Texas.
And I want to let you know... Texas grieves for the people of El Paso today.
I ask that you keep El Pasoans in your prayers.
We know the power of prayer and the power that you can have by using that prayer.
>> SMITH: In the first hours after the attack, Governor Abbott was reluctant to call the shooting a hate crime.
>> Bottom line is, mental health is a large contributor to any type of violence or shooting violence.
We know that's a component to shootings that take place in schools.
>> Governor Abbott talked about how these things are always connected to mental illness.
>> ...challenging mental health- based issues.
>> He couldn't even bring himself to utter the phrase "hate crime" in, in the press conference.
By this point, everybody was aware of the manifesto.
Everybody is kind of tap dancing around this.
And so I just got as loud as I could and deliberately chose to ask the question to Representative Escobar.
And she was the only one at that point who had the courage to call this for what it was.
>> The manifesto narrative is fueled by hate.
And it's fueled by racism, and bigotry, and division.
This is someone who came from outside of our community to do us harm.
A community that has shown nothing but generosity and kindness to the least among us-- those people arriving at America's front door.
(siren blaring) ♪ ♪ >> SMITH: Later that day, Governor Abbott said that the shooting would be prosecuted as a hate crime.
Are you from El Paso?
>> Yes, I'm from El Paso.
>> SMITH: How do you make sense of this?
>> I never thought this would happen in our, our city.
I do feel heartbroken for the families, especially for the babies, because I have four of my own.
So it's going to take some time to heal.
♪ ♪ >> MAN (in Spanish): ♪ ♪ >> I'm Hispanic.
I've lived here for 73 years and it really, really hurts, you know?
Because I don't hate you.
You're white, I'm brown.
To me, everybody's the same, and it really hit home.
It doesn't matter where you come from.
(rotors whirring) ♪ ♪ >> SMITH: A few days later, I met with Representative Veronica Escobar, a third-generation El Pasoan.
>> Welcome, yeah, welcome to El Paso.
>> SMITH: It's been a hell of a week.
I just got back from the hospital.
Those folks endured so much... >> SMITH: You still have some in critical condition?
There sure are.
>> SMITH: When did you start to make a connection between what was unfolding at Walmart and all of the rhetoric that's been directed at migrants over the last couple of years?
>> When I heard about the alleged manifesto, and it was, it was already online, it was starting to spread like wildfire, and it was clear that in that manifesto, there were things that have been said by Fox News, by other politicians, and by the person with the biggest bully pulpit, the loudest voice in this country, the president.
>> When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.
They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.
So with immigration, you better be smart, and you better be tough, and they're taking your jobs, and you better be careful.
We have people trying to come in.
We're stopping a lot of them.
But we're taking people out of the country.
You wouldn't believe how bad these people are.
These aren't people.
These are animals.
This is an invasion.
When you see these caravans starting out with 20,000 people-- that's an invasion.
But how do you stop these people?
>> You can't-- there's no... (laughter) That's only in the panhandle you can get away with that statement.
(cheers and applause) >> SMITH: We asked the Trump Administration to provide an official who could speak to us about immigration.
>> We have a crisis at the southern border... >> SMITH: They arranged an interview with Ken Cuccinelli, someone who backs the president's tough rhetoric.
The rhetoric used by the president, and by yourself, in referring to immigrants has been extremely harsh.
How much does that, do you think, contribute to what we saw happen at Walmart in El Paso?
>> I don't think it contributes at all to something like that happening.
This is a person who has got boiling hatred and committing domestic terrorism, that's what that is.
That's not caused by rhetoric, that's a long thought out decision, as we saw with this evil individual's manifesto.
>> SMITH: That manifesto used language that was echoing what was being used by the president and on Fox News and other sources.
>> You know on the other side of this debate we hear Nazi allusions and we hear concentration camp comments, but I reject the connection between public debate, even tough public debate, and acts of violence.
>> Authorities say the shooter drove ten hours to get to this Walmart here in El Paso.
This city is 80% Latino, and it's at the center of a national debate.
>> SMITH: I arrived in El Paso last May, three months before the attack at Walmart.
I came here to understand why this border crossing was suddenly seeing a dramatic spike in the number of migrants.
I wanted to understand how President Trump was handling this surge.
Critics charge that the president's approach and his rhetoric have inflamed the crisis.
>> The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime.
>> SMITH: Six months before the attack at Walmart, Trump singled out El Paso in his State of the Union address.
>> One of our nation's most dangerous cities... >> SMITH: He exaggerated claims about the crime rate, touting the success of a reinforced fence along the border.
>> Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country.
(cheers and applause) >> SMITH: El Paso's Republican mayor was quick to respond.
The president said, immediately after building the wall, "El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country."
>> My response was, "Yes, we are one of the safest cities in the country, but we had been before the fence went up."
(cheers and applause) The fence had no direct impact on our overall crime rate.
>> Thank you very much, El Paso, thank you very much.
(cheers and applause) >> SMITH: President Trump came to El Paso several days after his State of the Union address.
>> They've been trying to say, "Oh, the wall didn't make that much ..." >> SMITH: He disputed the mayor's assessment, even though El Paso has long been considered one of the safest cities in America, even before the fence was erected.
>> But I don't care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat.
They're full of crap when they say it hasn't made a big difference.
>> SMITH: And he just said, "You're full of crap."
>> Well, he did at that time.
But irrespective of that, I corrected the record from day one.
>> SMITH: Still, El Paso had from the beginning drawn the attention of the Trump Administration.
In April 2017, just three months into Trump's presidency, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, came to El Paso to address border security.
>> This sliver of land is the ground zero.
This is the frontlines and this is where we are making our stand to reduce illegal immigration in America.
>> What is very frustrating to me is how decisions that are made very far away from here, in Washington, by people who sometimes haven't even been here, they're making decisions about the places that we live in.
We've seen an increase of border wall construction.
It's a monument that says those who are on the other side of, of this wall are not welcomed.
But the reality is that border communities are very welcoming.
Juárez and El Paso are sister cities.
A lot of us have family on both sides of the border.
Many can cross back and forth to come to school, to go to work.
For us, this is... this is a great place, this is a great place to live.
>> SMITH: El Paso has also been a place that has been used as a policy testing ground.
>> El Paso is used in order to beta-test policies that get scaled up and used in other parts of the country.
So, for instance, El Paso was the first place where the border was hardened and militarized, going all the way back to that time in the '90s.
So whether it's the wall, whether it's practices in the court, or whether it's conditions in detention, here in El Paso, we unfortunately have been a laboratory for immigration enforcement here on the border.
>> SMITH: The first policy tested under President Trump followed an executive order calling for a general crackdown on immigration.
>> The United States of America gets back control of its borders, gets back its borders.
(cheers and applause) >> SMITH: Spurred by the president, El Paso Border Patrol began to criminally prosecute families who crossed through their sector.
Parents were charged with illegal entry and detained.
>> Suddenly, families coming and claiming asylum were being criminally prosecuted for that for the first time.
>> MAN (in Spanish): >> SMITH: But since children, under law, could not be locked up with their parents, they would be separated and sent to separate facilities.
This was the beginning of Zero Tolerance.
>> 10-4, stand by.
>> It was a local initiative.
The leadership in CBP in the field and the U.S. attorney's office were having discussions based on the priorities being outlined in the executive order.
And they decided to use that capability, and it was essentially their own zero tolerance initiative.
>> SMITH: Public defender Sergio Garcia suddenly had five separation cases.
>> I thought it was just a fluke.
I was expecting to have long criminal history in these parents.
I was expecting to find some evidence of maybe child trafficking or something, but instead, I found nothing.
I found clean records, no prior removals.
They had never been here in this country, and they were being separated.
>> SMITH: In Washington, at the Department of Homeland Security's Civil Rights Division, they were blindsided.
Scott Shuchart would eventually leave the department in protest.
Was your office consulted about this policy of family separation?
We got told that there was no such pilot.
We got the run-around.
CBP still wouldn't confirm to my office that there was any such thing.
>> SMITH: A high-ranking officer with El Paso's Border Patrol Union, Wesley Farris, told us he objected to the initiative.
>> I had to separate children from their parents.
That was the most horrible thing I've ever done.
You can't help but see your own kids.
>> SMITH: Well, put us there when, when you had to do that.
>> The last one I did, it was a young boy.
I think he was about two.
It's just, the world was upside down to that kid.
So when the contractor tried to take him away, he reached for me, and he climbed up on me again, and he was holding on to me.
So that, that one got me a little bit.
That was tough.
I said at that one, "I'm not doing this anymore.
I won't do it."
I went back to the supervisor and I told him, "Don't assign me to do that anymore."
>> SMITH: Did you complain up the chain?
>> Well, I wanted to.
I mean, none of us were happy about it.
But everybody around me was just doing exactly what... We all were told to do this.
>> I have put in place a zero tolerance policy... >> SMITH: Then, in May 2018, six months after the El Paso child separation program ended, the Trump administration decided to scale up the program nationally.
>> At least 600 immigrant children were removed from their parents last month.
>> News coming in just now that so far, the government has separated 2,000 kids from their parents.
>> When a stranger rips a child from a parent's arms without any plan to reunify them, it is called kidnapping.
>> Lawmakers in both parties condemning it as cruel.
>> SMITH: Responding to fierce criticism, President Trump would sometimes defend his policy.
>> If we took Zero Tolerance away, you would be overrun.
>> SMITH: Other times, he would sidestep the controversy and blame it all on Democrats.
>> Do you agree with children being taken away from... >> No, I hate it.
>> At the border?
>> I hate the children being taken away.
The Democrats have to change their law.
That's their law.
>> SMITH: But, ultimately, the policy backfired.
>> Set them free!
Set them free!
>> SMITH: After protests nationwide, he reversed course.
>> We're signing an executive order.
It's about keeping families together.
Anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it.
We don't like to see families separated.
At the same time, we don't want people coming into our country illegally.
This takes care of the problem.
Thank you very much, everybody.
>> A migrant caravan heading from Central America to the U.S. border right now.
>> It's a mass of about 1,000 people.
>> SMITH: Starting in October 2018, migrants joined together in a human caravan and headed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
>> The largest caravan reportedly made up of more than 4,000 people... >> SMITH: Later, President Trump claimed the surge in migrants was a direct result of canceling of Zero Tolerance.
>> People are coming across the border in droves to get into the system, because they know that in the aggregate, together, they overwhelm the system and will then be released.
That is a threat to our entire system of law and border security.
>> The caravan grows to an estimated 7,200.
>> We are sending a simple message to the lawless caravans marching toward our border.
Turn back now.
Go back home.
We will not let you in.
>> SMITH: Human smugglers also saw in Trump's rhetoric an opportunity.
>> Every time President Trump said, "We're shutting down the border, the country is full, we're not allowing anyone in," that provided wonderful marketing for the coyotes to say, "You better come now.
This is your last chance."
>> SMITH: The president says the country is full.
We can't take any more people in, that there's a crisis at the border.
>> The president doesn't care about the law.
Our laws allow people to come and seek asylum.
>> SMITH: The right of refugees to apply for asylum has been protected by a U.S. statute for decades.
>> The statute is very clear.
Any alien-- regardless of how they got here-- they are entitled to seek asylum protections.
Not entitled to asylum, but they're entitled to go through the process that has been in place.
>> It's pretty clear that most of them don't meet the traditional definition of asylum seekers.
Most of them at root are trying to make lives better for their families.
The challenge in Central America in particular becomes that you have all of these issues of violence, and government impunity, and corruption, and gangs, and climate change that are all coming together that you can't just separate from poverty.
(people shouting in distance) >> SMITH: In El Paso, authorities prepared for the possibility of a caravan by running drills.
When the migrants kept coming, Trump declared a national emergency.
>> We're going to be signing a national emergency.
Get rid of drugs, and gangs, and people.
It's an invasion.
We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.
>> Yes, it is real, yes, it is in our backyard.
Somebody call Border Patrol!
>> MAN (in Spanish): >> SMITH: One vigilante group, the United Constitutional Patriots, heeded the call to fortify the border and began to live-stream their encounters with migrants.
>> Holy cow, you guys, they're still coming.
>> SMITH: In this video, hundreds of migrants can be seen crossing near Monument 1, an historic marker next to El Paso.
>> An open border at Monument 1.
Gotta build the wall.
Gotta back Trump up.
We gotta stop this asylum fraud.
>> Sit down!
All the way!
>> This tends to flare up as rhetoric about the border heats up and there's concern about large numbers of people coming across, and of course we've heard, you know, the word "invasion" and... >> SMITH: You've seen direct linkage between the rhetoric heating up in Washington and on the news programs, and the emergence of these militias?
>> Well, the militia members will tell you that themselves.
"We're here because our president told us that we need to defend the border."
(man shouting in Spanish) >> SMITH: This video was shot by Anthony Aguero, who often patrolled the area with the United Constitutional Patriots.
>> (in Spanish): >> SMITH: He posted it on Facebook.
>> Look at this woman!
(in Spanish): >> SMITH: The video was viewed over 160,000 times before he deleted it.
>> You guys can thank Beto O'Rourke, Veronica Escobar, for this crap.
All of you watching, y'all just became baby daddy to all these mother (bleep) here.
Come out like roaches, out of everywhere.
>> We wouldn't be here if this wasn't a national emergency.
If the country wasn't really being invaded, there would be no reason for us to be here.
>> SMITH: Jim Benvie was the spokesperson for the United Constitutional Patriots.
Stopping migration, that's your goal, right?
>> What my goal is is to document the crisis in hopes that these people will wake up and put their politics to the side.
Whether you're left or right, the country's being invaded.
Whether you want to call me racist, or whatever you want to call me, doesn't matter.
This country is being invaded.
>> SMITH: Later, Benvie invited us out on patrol.
>> Yeah, they're coming in.
Yeah, let's go, we got action again.
You guys see what's going on here?
No Border Patrol.
This is just us.
Anybody speak English?
(man shouting) >> You're talking about people who aren't trying to evade anything.
They want to be taken in to custody.
And they're going to sit there and wait for the Border Patrol to come whether there's a militia there or not.
>> More people crossing.
Obviously, these people aren't listening.
We've got a group sitting down over here cooperating.
>> The truth is that although Border Patrol said, "We don't need their help, we don't encourage this kind of thing," Border Patrol agents on the ground have long worked in partnership with these militia organizations.
So there's this wink and nod agreement between the militias and the Border Patrol that allows for this operation to go on.
>> A bunch crossed the river right over there.
>> Yeah, we saw them.
>> SMITH: Border Patrol says they do not endorse or condone private groups taking matters into their own hands, but they welcome assistance from the community.
>> They need the resources to solve the problem as it is currently.
The frontline is where this work gets done.
You know, imagine coming to work every day and you have a thousand people that are waiting for you to book them into the procedure.
That's a difficult situation for our folks to be in.
And it's unfortunate that it's not fixed.
>> SMITH: By May 2019, the situation had reached a breaking point.
In the first five months of 2019, El Paso's Border Patrol had apprehended over 111,000 migrants, an 800% increase over the previous year.
They were now seeing an unprecedented number of families.
In the past, they had dealt mostly with single adult males.
>> Mexican males, mainly, the logistics of dealing with that are much different than they are of dealing with small children or entire family units altogether.
(people talking in background) To put context into that, our facilities have never been updated.
And so we still have smaller facilities, and all of a sudden, we were just at max numbers.
(officers speaking Spanish) >> I have 15.
>> SMITH: Inside El Paso's holding facilities, there was now no space.
>> It's numbers like these that had their facilities bursting at the seam, and they say El Paso is seeing the worst of it.
>> Recent inspections found 900 migrants housed in spaces that were only supposed to hold 125.
>> SMITH: One 19-year-old Guatemalan, Sebastian, who crossed into El Paso with his siblings, described the conditions inside.
>> (in Spanish): >> It was not uncommon, for a cell designed for 50 people, for there to be 100, 200, 300 people in there.
>> SMITH: So how do they sleep?
>> Any way they can, really.
If they were going to stand up, they would all kind of have to collectively stand up together.
If they were going to lay down, they would all have to kind of collectively lay down together.
It's not a comfortable situation.
>> SMITH: Advocates say the conditions were made worse by Trump's push to end a long-standing policy of releasing migrants pending their court dates.
>> You will not be released into our country.
As long as I am president of the United States, we will enforce our laws and protect our borders.
(talking in background) >> Now there are hundreds of people being kept in chain-link cages, and they're just made to wait.
They don't have access to hygiene.
It smells, it stinks.
(girl crying) The way that we treat asylum seekers is horrific, and it is absolutely purposefully supposed to be that way, because the worse that we treat people in detention, the more likely they are to give up their case.
>> SMITH: With Border Patrol facilities over capacity, El Paso sector chief Aaron Hull started holding new arrivals for days at a time under a bridge right in the center of town.
>> I discovered that situation because I just wanted to take a walk.
I mean, it was a Sunday.
All of a sudden, like, I looked under the bridge, and I saw about 30 people, and they were clearly refugees.
I mean, there was a bunch of kids, and...
I'm, like, "What are these people doing under here?"
>> SMITH: Two weeks later, Nathan returned to the same spot.
>> I'm, like, really shocked, because now, instead of 30 or 50 people, there's, like, hundreds of people, and, and they were crammed up against each other.
There were so many of them.
You know, it was very disturbing.
But I think the Border Patrol was eager for the press to see it-- it was just... >> SMITH: Why would they be eager to have the press see that?
>> Just because I think they were doing their "we're in a huge crisis" thing.
You know, "We're picking up all these people now, and we don't know what to do with them.
This is a crisis."
>> SMITH: Chief Hull would not speak with us, but Farris told us that Hull believed the conditions would deter people from coming again.
>> Hull and the manager below him thought, "We don't want to entice more people to come.
We don't want to, um... make it nice.
We don't want to make it easy for them."
>> SMITH: But that ends up punishing women with children... >> Everybody.
>> SMITH: Families.
>> SMITH: Putting those people in that situation is pretty heartless.
>> SMITH: The head of CBP, Kevin McAleenan, came to El Paso to see the chaos at the bridge firsthand.
>> CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our southwest border, and nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso.
(baby crying) >> SMITH: Border Patrol has seen more families coming since 2014.
Yet, advocates say, CBP has failed to adequately handle the situation despite having more resources.
>> From about 2000 to 2006, Border Patrol was apprehending over a million people.
In those years, the Border Patrol had half of the number of agents they have now and way less money.
So it is very hard for me to believe that with a double of the number of agents and budget, they cannot humanely, quickly process the number of families that are arriving to our border and that are turning themselves in.
(talking over radio) >> SMITH: To alleviate the overcrowding, the Department of Homeland Security decided to test another new program in El Paso.
They called it Migrant Protection Protocols.
It is better known as Remain in Mexico.
>> A big change is coming for asylum seekers: The government is sending them back to Mexico.
>> What the Remain in Mexico policy does is it forces asylum seekers to remain on the other side of the border while they make their asylum claims.
(man speaking Spanish) Many migrants go to Ciudad Juárez, our sister city on the other side of the border.
Folks know Ciudad Juárez because it's been a place where there's been major drug trafficking, trafficking of immigrants, extortion, robbery, assault.
So Remain in Mexico is creating basically a long-term population of asylum seekers in a city that makes them vulnerable targets.
>> Across the border a man was attacked and killed by dozens of gunshots in northeast Juárez.
>> Another triple murder, it happened last night on the Pan-American Highway, just outside of Juárez.
>> SMITH: In Juárez, we met Sebastian again, that young man who had spent eight days in an overcrowded detention holding cell.
He had been separated from his siblings and sent back here to Mexico.
>> SEBASTIAN: >> WOMAN (in Spanish): >> SEBASTIAN: (voice breaking) (sniffles) >> SMITH: Thousands of migrants end up stranded in Juárez awaiting their court date.
A number of people have criticized Remain in Mexico for essentially placing those that are seeking asylum back into Mexico, facing dangers.
>> I don't deny that there are parts of Mexico that are dangerous, but the families are not contained there, nor are they obligated to stay there... >> SMITH: But these are not people that have the wherewithal to go to Cancun while they wait for their hearing in El Paso.
>> They do not have to stay in the dangerous area you describe, is the simple point.
And you don't have to go to Cancun to be safe in Mexico.
>> SMITH: One of the safest places for migrants is Casa del Migrante, the largest migrant shelter in Juárez.
It's run by the Catholic Church and was at capacity even before the Remain in Mexico program began.
In the courtyard, I spoke to Sayda.
She was five months pregnant.
(in Spanish): >> SAYDA: >> SMITH: >> Si, de Guatemala.
>> SMITH: >> SAYDA: (crying) (weeping softly) >> SMITH: >> SAYDA: ♪ ♪ >> SMITH: On the day we visited, an immigration advocate counseled Sayda and three other pregnant women who had met each other in the so-called hieleras, or iceboxes, where Border Patrol officers hold and process recent arrivals.
>> SAYDA: >> LINDA RIVAS: >> SAYDA: >> RIVAS: >> SAYDA: >> RIVAS: >> WOMAN: >> RIVAS: >> SMITH: How many are going to get attorneys?
>> Very, very few.
I see a huge impediment to due process.
Attorneys don't want to go down there, attorneys are unsure if they're able to legally work there.
As a matter of fact, not one attorney that we know and trust has agreed to take those cases.
>> It's certainly not a denial of their due process right.
You have a right to have access to a lawyer.
>> SMITH: But you reject the claim that the MPP program has made it difficult for the immigrants to receive adequate representation.
>> I understand that the NGO lawyers now have to go into Mexico or call.
I mean, a phone call will work, too, but there's no denial of access to lawyers.
>> SMITH: Of the 57,000 migrants assigned to the Remain in Mexico program, only an estimated four percent have obtained attorneys.
>> RIVAS: >> SMITH: Many have given up their asylum claims and returned home.
The government would say MPP has worked.
>> It has shifted the problem physically from one side of the border to the other.
It hasn't addressed any problems.
It's created new problems.
>> SMITH: But they would say it's been an effective deterrent, would they not?
>> They might say that, but what they mean is, "Out of sight, out of mind."
♪ ♪ (helicopter hovering) (siren blaring) >> SMITH: In El Paso, the crisis was far from over.
Things would erupt in the summer of 2019 at a facility on the outskirts of town.
It was Clint, a small Border Patrol detention center that used to house adult males, but was now holding children who were not deemed eligible for the Remain in Mexico program.
You've worked at Clint.
>> SMITH: Clint has earned a very negative reputation.
When Clint was designated as the holding facility for unaccompanied children, there was no mass training given to the agents there to verse them on our policy.
It was thrust upon them.
Somebody just arbitrarily decided, "Let's make Clint station."
With that decision, that station embarked on a horrible journey.
>> SMITH: Under a 1997 federal court ruling called the Flores settlement, detention facilities holding migrant children are to be regularly monitored to ensure that children are getting appropriate care.
>> We didn't initially know that children were being detained there.
And then we received information that there were children being held at Clint, and so we added it to our list of sites to visit.
>> SMITH: On the morning of June 17, 2019, 11 monitors showed up at the Clint facility, where over 350 children were being held.
>> We later learned that weeks earlier, there had been hundreds more, actually, detained in that same facility.
It only had capacity for a bit over 100.
>> We demanded a tour of Clint and visits with the sickest children in custody who were in quarantine.
We were denied both.
>> SMITH: Instead, the monitors met with the children in a series of conference rooms.
>> The children were wearing clothing that was covered in nasal mucus, in vomit.
There was a strong stench.
They weren't given an opportunity to shower for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes not at all since crossing the border.
>> I mean, it was obvious that there was infectious disease and not enough hygiene to address transmission of disease.
And it just felt like an emergent situation, and we just decided, "We have to go public about this."
>> SMITH: Two children had already died in El Paso Border Patrol custody.
Concerned others could die at Clint, the monitors took their story to the media.
>> ...week at the Clint border facility, we are seeing sick children, we are seeing dirty children, we are seeing hungry children.
We're seeing children who have been separated from their parents and other family members.
We really have a dire situation here.
>> Outbreaks of scabies, shingles, and chicken pox were spreading among the hundreds of children.
>> Toddlers walking inside cells.
This is basically a jail set-up, and it's jarring.
>> Well, I would dispute that the conditions are so bad.
>> SMITH: El Paso's Border Patrol chief repeatedly said that the facility had passed inspection.
>> We're not keeping people in inhumane conditions.
As I said, we are inspected constantly.
>> SMITH: President Trump said it was all fake news.
>> I think that the Border Patrol was treated very, very badly.
I've seen some of those places, and they are run beautifully.
They're clean, they're good.
>> SMITH: President Trump had not visited Clint.
>> Shut it down!
>> Shut it down!
>> Shut it down!
>> (all chanting): Shut it down!
>> The truth of the matter is Clint is a symbol for the whole Border Patrol right now.
I would say that we were at the peak of our unreadiness for what was happening.
(crowd chanting) Most of us are fathers, mothers.
We all knew that this isn't how you should hold kids.
We just didn't have any choice.
>> And shame on us as a country.
No child should wake up in a cage.
>> I've met the mothers of children who have died in the custody of Border Patrol.
It's not just another strategy like Remain in Mexico, like Zero Tolerance, like family separation.
It's saying, "You are not welcome.
We're going to treat you like this and you're going to remember it, and you're going to tell your relatives back home."
(gavel pounding) >> The committee will come to order.
>> SMITH: Three-and-a-half weeks after their initial visit to Clint, the Flores monitors brought their findings before the House Oversight Committee.
>> Thank you, Chairman Cummings, Ranking Member Jordan, and distinguished members of the committee, for having me here today.
I was at the Clint CBP facility last month.
I want to share with you what I heard, what I saw, and what I smelled.
Children were hungry.
Children were traumatized.
One six-year-old girl, detained all alone, could only say, "I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared," over and over again.
It was tense.
I was making explosive allegations about the abject failure of our federal government to take care of babies.
...a newborn detained for seven days.
And the administration had already come out by that point to say that our findings, our allegations, were "unsubstantiated."
>> Fabricating stories of cruelty and besmirching the hardworking civil servants who are protecting the border does nothing to help solve the problem.
>> Not only am I lying, but all my colleagues are lying, and that the hundreds of pages of sworn testimony from children are "unsubstantiated," are false.
>> SMITH: In depositions, the children described overcrowded cells.
Several said they had to sleep on cement floors.
They were hungry and were denied basic hygiene.
>> The holding facilities are overcrowded.
There are not enough showers.
This should be no surprise to anyone.
>> SMITH: At the hearing, Tom Homan, the former acting director of ICE and for years a Border Patrol agent himself, said that Border Patrol leadership had been warning Congress about overcrowding for months.
>> ...that this system is overwhelmed.
More funds are needed so these people can be moved quickly to a more appropriate facility designed for them.
>> SMITH: But, he said, the reports were overblown.
>> Most of these allegations have been found to be untrue after extensive investigation, but it's too late when that happens.
>> SMITH: And morale among Border Patrol agents, he said, was at an all-time low.
>> They have to wake up every day and see news reports and comments from representatives in Congress that they're Nazis, white supremacists, that they operate concentration camps, that they knowingly abuse women and children.
>> Putting CBP agents in a position where they are required to take care of children two years old and younger isn't fair to them.
>> These agents deserve better.
>> But the Trump administration is trying to cover up among the worst human rights abuses that are taking place in the United States right now.
>> Mr. Homan, do you understand that the consequences of separation of many children will be lifelong trauma and carried across generations?
Do you not care?
Is it because these children don't look like children that are around you?
I don't get it.
>> First of all, your comments are disgusting.
I've served my country-- I've served my country... >> I find your comments... >> ...34 years.
>> I find your comments disgusting, as well.
>> This is out of control.
What I've been trying to do in my 34 years serving my nation is to save lives.
So for you to sit there and insult my integrity and my love for children, that's why this whole thing needs to be fixed.
>> We agree on that.
>> And you're the member of Congress.
(rooster crowing) >> DARIANA (in Spanish): >> WOMAN (in Spanish): >> DARIANA: (speaking Spanish) >> SMITH: Last November, we traveled to Honduras to interview one nine-year-old girl who had been separated from her father after crossing into El Paso.
Her name is Dariana.
(children speaking Spanish) After crossing, her father Elder was arrested and charged with illegal re-entry.
Dariana was then labeled as an unaccompanied minor, separated, and sent to Clint.
This is the first time a child held inside Clint has been known to speak to the media about conditions there.
Dariana told us that she was held for 11 days in a detention block with 50 other kids.
>> DARIANA: >> WOMAN: >> DARIANA: >> SMITH: After Clint, Dariana was transferred to a facility in New York City called Cayuga, overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
She said there, she was treated better.
>> DARIANA: >> SMITH: After three months in Cayuga, Dariana appeared before a judge in New York City and asked to be sent back to her family.
>> DARIANA: >> WOMAN: >> DARIANA: >> (summoning dog) >> SMITH: Her father said Dariana was now angry at him for taking her on their journey.
>> ELDER: >> A Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, has become a major political talking point in Washington.
Democratic lawmakers are now demanding something be done... >> SMITH: Amid the controversy at Clint, Chief Aaron Hull was reassigned to a Border Patrol station in Detroit.
>> Late today, the House passed a hotly debated bill to ease the crisis at the border.
>> SMITH: Congress finally approved a $4.6 billion emergency border spending package.
Some of it went to improve detention facilities in El Paso.
What do you think our obligation is to housing and sheltering those who come knocking on our door?
>> I think that America prides itself on continuing to be the most generous country in the world.
But the question is, where do you draw the line?
It's not generosity to accept a break-in.
And we have a million-person break-in over the last fiscal year in... on the southern border.
If you don't have a border, you don't have sovereignty or a nation, and we're, we're fighting to maintain that right now.
>> SMITH: The fact that people are coming across in these great numbers frightens many Americans, and there are many Americans who feel this is a president who is actually doing something about it.
>> I would ask them, what exactly is he doing?
Nothing that he has done has stemmed the flow of this exodus from Central America.
Everything he's done has made the situation worse.
>> In the wake of the shooting in a Walmart in Texas, President Trump will visit the community of El Paso on Wednesday.
>> SMITH: The president would return to El Paso one last time.
It was four days after the attack at Walmart.
>> He should not come here while we are in mourning.
This is the site of one of his rallies.
Statistically, violence went up, hate crimes went up in communities where he had held rallies.
(crowd chanting "U.S.A.") >> SMITH: Near a hospital where victims were being treated, Trump supporters clashed with demonstrators.
>> (shouting) (crowd chanting "Trump 2020") >> SMITH: As President Trump left the city, he invited El Paso's mayor, Dee Margo, to drive back with him to the airport.
The mayor used the opportunity to press him on immigration reform.
>> So on the way over there, he brought up the wall and the fence, and I said, "Yes, CBP says there is a place for a physical barrier, but it's not a panacea and the whole thing."
>> SMITH: But the president did not want to discuss alternatives to a wall.
He insulted the mayor, calling him a "Republican in Name Only"-- a RINO.
>> He said, "You're a RINO."
I said, "No, sir.
I'm not a RINO."
>> SMITH: What did he say?
>> He just kind of grinned.
>> SMITH: He didn't really care?
>> No, he understood.
No, I think the grin was, "Okay, I understand what you're saying," you know.
I'm not into drama.
My position is, I'd rather light a candle than curse the darkness.
So I'll do the best I can and try and convey who we are and what we're about, the benefit of our, our culture, our binational culture.
So that's the best I can do.
♪ ♪ >> This country goes into 2020 as divided as it's ever been.
>> NARRATOR: From "Frontline's" award-winning political team-- a two-night special series.
Years of reporting-- investigating the conflicts and crossing the divide.
>> ...people were angry... >> ...outrage machine... >> ...are they going to start storming the gates?
>> NARRATOR: The epic story of how we got here... >> Today there's just a lack of respect.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline for a look at how the Border Patrol is struggling to fill its ranks and keep the agents it has... >> They have to wake up every day and see news reports that they're Nazis, white supremacists, that they operate concentration camps.
>> I had to separate children from their parents.
That was the most horrible thing I've ever done.
>> And more reporting on the fallout from Trump's immigration policies.
Connect to the "Frontline" community on Facebook and Twitter, and watch anytime on the PBS Video App or pbs.org/frontline.
♪ ♪ >> For more on this and other "Frontline" programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
♪ ♪ "Frontline's" "Targeting El Paso" is available on Amazon Prime Video.