The descriptions of border detention facilities are tediously familiar: Concentration camps. Children in cages. A human rights abomination.
Here are words you don’t usually hear: “better than expected.”
Yet that’s exactly how WRCB-TV described what a Chattanooga, Tennessee-area pastor who visited the border experienced on his tour of the facilities at Clint, Texas — where recent reports of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions ended with 249 children being moved out of the facility last month, only for 100 to be moved back just days later, according to The New York Times.
Kevin Wallace was one of seven pastors invited to the border by Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and an informal adviser to President Donald Trump.
Wallace told WRCB that he was escorted through the Clint Detention Center in Texas by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and was even allowed in restricted areas.
“It’s not at all what I had imagined based on the reports that I heard,” Wallace said.
“The kids in the place were obtaining incredible care. I never saw one soggy diaper, I never saw one hungry child, there are no cages.”
Wallace told WRCB that he even saw ICE agents changing diapers.
“As I walked through I thought — there are people living in America, children living in America — who are living conditions are much worst [sic],” he said.
“I saw people in that detention center who demonstrated a true care and concern for those children,” he added. “There was not one child that looked malnourished, that looked unfed, that looked unkempt.”
He also noted that “none of [the children] were stripped from their parents.”
Clint was the same facility visited by other reporters and politicians whose versions of the story varied.
“Children as young as 3 pressed their faces against the windows of one crowded cell holding nearly 20 migrant girls, some sprawled on the floor. Boys gazed through the fencing of a containment zone exposed to the 101-degree heat,” Simon Romero reported in The New York Times.
“Customs and Border Protection authorities on Wednesday allowed a group of journalists on a brief, highly controlled tour of the border station in Clint, a farming town near El Paso, hitting back at reports of filthy and abusive conditions for the children detained inside.
“Agents claimed that they were supplying soap and toothbrushes for the children, pointing to shelves with those items in a supply room. (Other shelves held lice repellent shampoo and medical gloves.) They claimed that children held in Clint were not going hungry, pointing to boxes of instant noodles and oatmeal piled near a processing room,” Romero wrote.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, told reporters she didn’t feel “safe” around Border Patrol officials.
She also claimed that women were being told by CBP to drink from toilets.
— KFOX14 News (@KFOX14) July 1, 2019
This was in fact the type of toilet we saw in the cell.
Except there was just one, and the sink portion was not functioning – @AyannaPressley smartly tried to open the faucet, and nothing came out.
So the women were told they could drink out of the bowl. https://t.co/rcu9Rt6B2x
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 1, 2019
The variety of descriptions could be the product of a “Rashomon”-like effect in which the truth of what observers witnessed is influenced by the experiences they bring to the situation. When a pastor invited by a Trump adviser, a reporter from The New York Times, and a progressive congresswoman all say exactly what they were expected to say before they went in there, there’s good reason to doubt their accounts.
There must be some bedrock truth eventually, however. Facilities like Clint are packed; they obviously won’t be five-star hotels and they’re likely to be overcrowded. But border facilities aren’t concentration camps or the gulag — and it’s time we started looking askance at that kind of overheated rhetoric.
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