WASHINGTON -- Four House Democratic freshmen who recently toured detention stations for migrants along the Texas border told a House committee Friday of jam-packed, fetid holding areas "in front of the American flag" and accused President Donald Trump of intentional cruelty to discourage future arrivals.
Firing back, a quartet of Republicans from border states told the same panel that Democrats weren't doing anything to ease the crisis and blamed them for posturing that one said was aimed at "Twitter followers and cynical politics."
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was touring detention facilities in Texas. After seeing one site where almost 400 men were being held in cages in the sweltering heat, Pence acknowledged, "This is tough stuff."
Friday's House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing offered a microcosm of the nation's red-blue chasm and, perhaps, a chance for each side to vent. But ultimately, it underscored each party's starkly warring views about Trump's hardline anti-immigration policies, suggesting they're destined to be a leading issue for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.
The hearing came as the number of families, children and other migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico has surged above 100,000 monthly since March, overwhelming federal agencies' ability to detain them in sanitary conditions or move them quickly to better housing. It also came days before Trump-ordered nationwide raids targeting people in the U.S. illegally are expected to begin, according to administration officials and immigrant activists, actions that would further inflame the issue.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the 29-year-old progressive icon, was among the four Democrats -- all women -- who testified. After being sworn in at her request, a practice the committee generally eschews for fellow lawmakers and seemed a taunt at dubious Republicans, she described migrant women telling her they had to sleep on the concrete floor and drink from the toilet because their cell's sink was broken. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was near tears as she displayed a picture she said was of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl -- the same age as her son -- who died in U.S. custody. She criticized harsh policies "intentionally and cruelly created by a Trump administration dead set on sending a hate-filled message that those seeking refuge are not welcome in America."