- 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)
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)
Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration
Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.
The Pandemic’s End
“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.
The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.
“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.
Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.
“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”
To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question
Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.
The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”
The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.
The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.
In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio
In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.
The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol
In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.
Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.
Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.
“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.
When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.
“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”
Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”
When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.
The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.
“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”
He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”
Trump Warms to QAnon
QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.
The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.
He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.
When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.
In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.
In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.
Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”