WASHINGTON — Top Trump administration immigration officials on Sunday contradicted reports that migrant children were being held in horrific conditions in federal detention facilities, arguing that the government was enforcing oversight standards even as it struggled to house and care for an influx of migrants.
Accounts of disease, hunger and overcrowding have multiplied in recent days, but Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, maintained that the facilities were safe.
Pressed on a report by The New York Times and The El Paso Times in which Border Patrol agents and others who had visited a facility in Clint, Texas, described crying children, cases of smallpox, scabies and shingles, and inadequate medical care, McAleenan dismissed the details as “unsubstantiated.”
“I can tell you right now is that there’s adequate food, water,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “For over a year, there’s been showers there.”
Still, he and Cuccinelli acknowledged that the government’s resources had been strained by the surge of migrants seeking asylum at the southwestern border.
“It’s an extraordinarily challenging situation,” McAleenan said. “I’m not denying that there are challenging situations at the border.”
With Congress set to return Monday after a weeklong recess for the Fourth of July holiday, lawmakers are preparing to confront the accounts of squalor in the border facilities and reports of current and former Border Patrol agents deriding migrants and making vulgar remarks about Democratic lawmakers in a private Facebook group.
McAleenan and Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, have been called to testify this week before the House Oversight and Reform Committee to discuss the concerns.
Cuccinelli, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” asserted that the detention facilities he had personally visited were safe and being run well. He focused partial blame on lawmakers, who struggled for months to reach an agreement on $4.6 billion in humanitarian aid for agencies and officials working at the southwestern border.
“If they keep coming, people in the House come down and complain about them keep coming while not helping fix the problem,” Cuccinelli said, referring to a group of Democratic lawmakers who toured Texas border facilities last week and shared troubling accounts from migrants held there.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy,” he added.
With the long-delayed aid approved before Congress left for its recess, McAleenan said the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to care for migrant children had improved.
Within the Democratic caucus, however, the debate over the allocation of that funding left wounds, with several members objecting to approving the money without more oversight. Congress still needs to pass legislation to fund all the agencies and departments into the next fiscal year.
“He can say throw more money at a broken system, at an inhumane system,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., one of the lawmakers who visited Texas last week, referring to McAleenan’s remarks. Her vote against the aid, she said, “was because we knew this was not the choice that we needed our country to move forward on.”