Pence acknowledges 'tough stuff' at border detention centre

Trump administration agrees to independent investigation of health conditions for children at border facilities

"The stench was horrendous", White House pool reporter Josh Dawsey wrote of the brief visit to an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station.

July 13 ― Vice President Mike Pence viewed an overcrowded, foul-smelling facility in Texas yesterday where almost 400 men are detained after being accused of crossing the United States border illegally.

"When the men saw the press arrive, they began shouting and wanted to tell us they'd been in there 40 days or longer", the report said. "Our Customs and Border Protection are doing their level best to provide compassionate care to these families in a manner the American people would expect".

"I knew we'd see a system that was overwhelmed", Pence said, according to the pool report.

"People are making billions of dollars exploiting these people", Graham said during a roundtable discussion held just after the delegation had visited the Donna processing center - a soft-sided structure meant to accommodate 500 migrants, but which senators on Friday said contained close to 1,000 people. The men did not have mats or pillows and some were sleeping on concrete. Pence told reporters every family he spoke to there said they were being well cared for.

Pence said it was heartbreaking to hear from children who had walked two or three months to come to America and cross the border illegally, but he ultimately blamed Congress for failing to pass legislation that would deal with the influx of migrants at the southern border. Squalid conditions at border facilities have drawn widespread concern as the migrant flow across the border has surged to more 100,000 per month this year, at times overwhelming the USA immigration system. He left before commenting on the conditions at that second center.

The scene at the McAllen station resembled what an inspector general found in a scathing report delivered last week based on trips to Border Patrol facilities near the Rio Grande, including the station Pence visited.

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Michael Banks, the patrol agent in charge of the McAllen facility, disputed the detainees' account of the conditions, saying they are allowed to brush their teeth once a day, and that the no one had been held there longer than 32 days. "They come, they visit, they visit with Border Patrol, but they never hear from the community, they don't talk to us".

Republicans have accused Democrats of failing to get on board with legal changes to the asylum system that would make the flow of migrants easier to handle, while Democrats have charged Trump's policies and rhetoric are callous and making a bad situation worse. He said they were given deodorant after showering, but conceded numerous men had not showered for 10 or 20 days.

After visiting the second site, Pence had a more sober assessment. He stressed that he had called for more Department of Homeland Security spending because of the overcrowded situation, including a $4.6bn humanitarian aid package that Congress passed recently. There, Dawsey described seeing detainees lying on "kindergarten-like napping mats" on the floor with a "thin tinfoil-like blanket".

The Director of Columbia Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic Elora Mukherjee spoke about the dozens of detained children whom she and her colleagues interviewed in June at the Clint Border Patrol facility in Texas.

As Pence toured the facilities, a House committee was having a contentious, partisan debate back in Washington over how migrants have been treated.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said, "There is no excuse for how we are treating children".

Some Democrats have described the detention centers as "concentration camps" and say the US government is holding children in "cages".

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