Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview Sunday that reports of atrocious conditions at migrant detention centers along the southern border were “heartbreaking,” but failed to take any responsibility. He said instead that the Trump administration could do little to address the lack of basic sanitation at the facilities because of Congress.
Pence spoke with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, where he was asked about accounts from attorneys who last week told The Associated Press and The New York Times that some migrant kids had been held without basic sanitation needs for more than a month at a border patrol station in Texas. The accounts describe scenarios where some children were taking care of other children, instances where kids were seen wearing filthy clothing and a lack of toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.
CBS’ Margaret Brennan asked Pence about the reports, but while the vice president called them “totally unacceptable,” he moved to blame Congress and migrants themselves, who have been crossing the border in vast numbers.
“The American people deserve to know that our dedicated Customs and Border Patrol agents are literally being overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people coming across our border to take advantage of loopholes in our laws,” Pence said, before turning toward efforts in Congress. “We’ve asked for more bed space, we’ve asked for more support. Our Customs and Border Patrol agents are doing a- a job but the system is overwhelmed.”
Brennan later asked what the executive branch, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security and immigration efforts, planned to do about the reports.
“So how is the executive totally powerless to do anything about these unsafe, unsanitary conditions?” Brennan asked.
“Well, we’re- we’re- we’re- we’re doing a lot with what the Congress has given us,” Pence said. “But again, Congress refused to increase the bed space in the last appropriations bill.”
“We just have to accept these conditions … that are being described here?” Brennan replied.
“No, absolutely not. It’s one of the reasons why the president’s taken the strong stand that he’s taken on the crisis on our southern border,” Pence said. “That’s why the president took the strong stand that he took with Mexico just a few short weeks ago.”
The vice president later said the situation was “heartbreaking,” but again cast blame on Democrats and said the president was “doing his job.” In an interview that aired earlier on Sunday with CNN, Pence also said that “of course” the Trump administration should provide migrant children with access to sanitary products.
The Trump administration has continued to take a hard line against undocumented immigration in recent weeks, and the president sent out a missive on Twitter saying immigration officials were preparing to deport “millions” of migrants within the coming days. Trump walked back those claims on Saturday, saying he was giving lawmakers two weeks to put together a deal to the “asylum and loophole problems at the southern border.”
But earlier in the week, a Justice Department attorney argued that the federal government should not be required to provide soap or toothbrushes to children detained while trying to cross into the U.S.