- A group of lawmakers toured several border facilities on Monday, where they found separated families, dirty and unsafe conditions, and some people who had been in the centers for more than 50 days.
- Several representatives reported that multiple women were packed in a cell with no running water, where Border Patrol agents allegedly told them to drink from the toilet if they wanted water.
- The same day, ProPublica released a report about a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents, where they posted vulgar pictures of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and joked about migrants dying and throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress.
Lawmakers Tour Border Facilities
Lawmakers are condemning the living conditions and treatment of migrants at Border Patrol facilities after touring several centers in Clint and El Paso, Texas on Monday.
The tours came after a facility in Clint faced widespread backlash over reports that said about 350 children were being held in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
A group of lawyers who went to the facility and interviewed the children said that the children were hungry and many did not have access to showers, soap, or toothbrushes. Babies were said to have been left unattended or cared for by other children. There were also reported outbreaks of the flu and lice.
Some of those children, who under the law can only be held in these facilities for no more than 72 hours, had been there for three weeks.
The lawmakers who toured the facilities on Monday said that most of the children had been moved from the Clint facility. However, they were still horrified by the conditions at the El Paso facility, where they said several hundred people are still detained.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Responds
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the people who toured the facilities.
“There’s abuse in these facilities, there’s abuse,” she told reporters after going to the El Paso center. “This was them on their best behavior, and they put them in a room with no running water, and these women were being told by CPB officers to drink out of the toilet.”
Ocasio-Cortez also took to Twitter to describe what she saw, specifically noting how the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents behaved.
“Officers laughing in front of members Congress,” she wrote. “I brought it up to their superiors. They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.”
In another tweet, Ocasio-Cortez said that she spoke to a woman in the center who “described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ – waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc.”
After leaving El Paso, Ocasio-Cortez also told CNN, “In the last facility, I was not safe from the officers.” In a tweet, she said that the Border Patrol officers were being “physically &sexually threatening” towards her.
The Washington Examiner later reported that Ocasio-Cortez had screamed at Border Patrol agents. The Congresswoman’s communications office responded to the article in a statement to the Washington Post, calling it “inaccurate depiction of events.”
“The Congresswoman spoke sternly to a CBP agent that tried to take a stealth selfie with the Congresswoman in a mocking manner, despite the gravity of the situation,” the statement said.
Other Lawmakers Respond
Other lawmakers who toured the facilities also confirmed what Ocasio-Cortez said about detainees being told to drink from toilets.
However, Border Patrol officials denied those accusations, with Border Patrol Chief of Operations telling CNN, there are “ample supplies” and adding “a lot of our stations look like Costco.”
The lawmakers also spoke out about their experiences during the tour.
Representative Madeleine Dean described women being separated from their families, going weeks without showers, and sleeping on concrete floors, writing “This is a human rights crisis.”
Representative Joe Kennedy told reporters that the facility “feels like a jail, and they’re treating them like they’re in jail.” Kennedy also said in a tweet that the Border Patrol agents “tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video.”
“Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative,” he added.
Despite the fact that their cellphones were taken away, Representative Joaquin Castro was able to sneak in a device. Later he tweeted out a video he took of several women detained in a cramped cell.
“This moment captures what it’s like for women in CBP custody to share a cramped cell—some held for 50 days—for them to be denied showers for up to 15 days and life-saving medication,” Castro wrote. “For some, it also means being separated from their children. This is El Paso Border Station #1.”
After touring the facilities, the lawmakers held a news conference. The entire time they spoke, protestors yelled over them, forcing them to yell to be heard. Some protestors reportedly yelled racist and sexist slurs at a few of the congresswomen.
Representative Rashida Tlaib gave an emotional speech while protestors yelled, “We don’t want Sharia law here. We don’t care about Sharia law, we care about Jesus Christ.”
The visits to the Border Patrol facilities were made more contentious by a ProPublica report published right before the lawmakers toured the facilities, which detailed a Facebook group where Border Patrol agents reportedly joked about migrant deaths and posted sexist memes.
According to ProPublica, the group is called “I’m 10-15” which is the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.” It was created in August of 2016 and consists of 9,500 current and former agents.
The report stated that members of the group “joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.”
The picture in question had the caption, “Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special Starring AOC.” ProPublica also provided a screenshot of a doctored photo where Ocasio-Cortez is engaging in oral sex with Donald Trump.
Another screenshot from the group showed an article with a picture of Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Veronica Escobar with a comment, “Let’s start a go fund me for one CTX agent brave enough to throw a 10-15 burrito at one of these bitches.”
The report also said that agents joked about a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in CBP custody in May. In another post, one agent made fun of a viral picture of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.
ProPublica stated that they were able to “link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas.”
Response to ProPublica Report
CBP quickly responded to the report in a statement and said that they had contacted the DHS Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation.
“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost was quoted as saying in the statement. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”
The lawmakers who were touring the facilities also responded to the report.
“If they have these kind of derogatory feelings about us, you can only imagine what they’re thinking about these detainees,” Representative Judy Chu said in a video on Twitter. “There are the ones who are in charge of them. Well, there seriously has to be some changes.”
Representative Castro also spoke about the page during the press conference. “That was a vulgar, disgusting, and vile page,” he said. “That shows, unfortunately, that there are many within CBP who become desensitized to the point of being dangerous to the migrants in their care and to their co-workers.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded to the report on Twitter, writing “This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs.’ This is a violent culture.”
ProPublica also said that the Facebook page is only one recent example of the kind of behavior described in their report.
They noted that other investigations have shown enforcement officers engaging in extremist, anti-government, and white supremacist Facebook Groups, specifically citing a border agent who hit a migrant with a truck and was found sending texts using racial slurs.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (Fox News)
Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan
- President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
- Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
- The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.
Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan
President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.
Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.
Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.
Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.
Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.
As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.
Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.
Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters
- More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
- The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
- The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.”
- Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.
Demands for Investigation
Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.
In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack.
In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.
They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.
The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”
Members Under Fire
Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.
In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection.
Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.
“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”
While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.
“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”
Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History
- The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
- Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
- Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
- McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.
House Debates Impeachment
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.
Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.
Questionable Path in Senate
No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”
Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.
McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump.
Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.
In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.