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US border facilities ‘horrifying’: Congresswoman

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Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez condemns conditions migrants are held in and offensive Facebook posts of Border Patrol group

CLINT, TEXAS : Controversy broadsided the embattled US Border Patrol agency on Monday, as a high-profile US Congresswoman touring detention facilities called conditions "horrifying", while current and former agency staffers were alleged to have posted offensive comments about the lawmaker and migrants on a private Facebook page.

Migrants held at a border patrol station in Texas were subjected to psychological abuse and told to drink out of toilets, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said after a visit with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the main border patrol facility in El Paso.

"After I forced myself into a cell with women and began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as 'psychological warfare'," Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term New York Democrat, wrote on Twitter.

"This has been horrifying so far."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees Border Patrol, also came under fire on Monday following a report by the non-profit news site ProPublica that offensive content had been posted on a private Facebook group for current and former CBP officers.

Posts included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit comments referencing Ms Ocasio-Cortez, the news outlet said.

"This isn't about 'a few bad eggs,'" Ms Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to the ProPublica report.

"This is a violent culture."


Mr Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner of CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility, called the social media activity "disturbing" and said it violated the agency's code of conduct.

According to a screen shot published by ProPublica, the Facebook group had 9,500 members.

"These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honour and integrity I see - and expect - from our agents day in and day out," US Border Patrol chief Carla Provost said in a statement.

Conditions at US facilities holding migrants along the US-Mexico border have become a flashpoint since an internal government watchdog warned of "dangerous overcrowding" at the El Paso facility in May.

In June, immigration lawyers raised alarms over squalid conditions facing hundreds of children at another facility in Clint, Texas. The lawmakers visited both Texas facilities on Monday.

US President Donald Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a centrepiece of his administration, but officials say a renewed crush of mostly Central Americans arriving at the border has strained resources.

Border apprehensions topped 132,000 in May, their highest levels in more than a decade.

During the legislators' visit on Monday, Congresswoman Judy Chu, a California Democrat, spoke emotionally about what she saw.

"I will never forget the image of being in a cell and seeing 15 women, tears coming down their faces as they talked about being separated from their children, about having no running water, and about not being able to know when they were going to get out since they had already been there 50 days."

Border Patrol agents have expressed their own concerns about conditions at facilities, according to documents published on Monday from the DHS Inspector General that supported the watchdog's May report.

The documents revealed US agents feared riots by migrants being held in overcrowded and unsanitary cells and were "embarrassed" and "frustrated" by the detainees' conditions at El Paso.- REUTERS