By LISA MASCARO AP Congressional Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas congressman says he released video and photos of migrant women being held at a border facility in his state so the public could better understand “awful” conditions under President Donald Trump’s policies.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro said in an interview that he had no second thoughts about taking and sharing the images after officials had asked the lawmakers on a facility tour to leave their cellphones behind. He posted the images after visiting a station in El Paso.
“There’s a reason these conditions are kept secret because these conditions are awful,” Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told The Associated Press.
Castro said because lawmakers have oversight authority, they should not be denied access or the ability to share their findings.
Castro said he holds out hope that Congress will impose standards of care and seek broader immigration reforms, though lawmakers have been unable to do so.
Trump signed an emergency $4.6 billion border funding package into law this week after lawmakers split over putting restrictions on how the money can be spent. Some House Democrats wanted more standards on the facilities, but they ran up against resistance from centrist colleagues and those in the Senate. Republicans complained that Democrats delayed the funding.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus led a tour of migrant facilities this week and lawmakers decried the conditions inside the Texas centers.
Castro, whose twin brother Julian is a Democratic presidential candidate, said as Congress needs to “fix a broken system.”
Women held at the facility were “crammed into a prison-like cell with one toilet, but no running water to drink from or wash their hands,” Castro tweeted. Some had been separated from their children and held for more than 50 days, he said.
Castro said the women asked lawmakers to take down their names, shown in the video, to “let everyone know they need help.” He said the women feared retribution.
Lawmakers have said border officials were taking photos of the congressional delegation during the tour. Some of the female members of Congress said it made them feel uneasy, given new revelations about a Facebook group of current and retired border agents posting derogatory comments about some of lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
As the House and Senate consider other legislation, Castro said, “It’s not just a matter of more cash to buy more granola bars and ramen” for the migrants.
Congress is in recess this week. But Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said “the really heartbreaking testimony” by members who visited the detention facilities “is going to have an impact” on legislation when lawmakers return. “Children really help galvanize attention,” he said.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.