McGovern on border crisis: ‘We need to fix this’

  • Men stand in a U.S. Immigration and Border Enforcement detention center in McAllen, Texas, Friday, July 12, 2019, as Vice President Mike Pence visits. Acknowledging "this is tough stuff," Pence says he was not surprised by what he saw as he toured the McAllen Border Patrol station Friday where hundreds of men were kept in caged fences with no cots amid sweltering heat. (Josh Dawsey/The Washington Post via AP) Josh Dawsey via AP

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, center left, in cap, helps serve food to immigrants on the Mexican side of the U.S. border on Saturday. OFFICE OF REP. JIM MCGOVERN

Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2019 12:15:55 AM

NORTHAMPTON — As anger continues to mount on the left over the Trump administration’s detention of migrants in squalid conditions, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern just returned from a visit to one of those detention centers.

McGovern, D-Worcester, was part of a delegation of federal lawmakers who toured the facilities on Saturday, including the same border patrol station and migrant “processing center” in McAllen, Texas, that Vice President Mike Pence had visited the day before.

“I wanted to see for myself what was happening, and what I saw was horrible,” McGovern said. “It’s hard to believe that people are being treated this way in the United States of America.”

At the McAllen center, McGovern said, he witnessed people who had been held in small, overcrowded cells — some standing room only — for as long as 60 days, deprived of basic hygiene essentials like showers or toothbrushes. Some were sick, others dehydrated or hungry, and guards kept the lights on always, making sleep even more difficult, McGovern said.

“I saw children being held in cages, essentially,” he said. “They all looked traumatized.”

The day prior, Pence had visited the same facility, where news cameras showed him standing with arms folded in front of men inside an overcrowded cage without cots. A pool reporter from the Washington Post described the stench in the room as “horrendous” inside the sweltering cages. 

“The cages were so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete,” the report from reporter Josh Dawsey reads. “There were 384 single men in the portal who allegedly crossed the border illegally. There were no mats or pillows — some of the men were sleeping on concrete.”

McGovern said that those horrible conditions were a deliberate act on the administration’s part as an attempt to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. 

In addition to their visit to the detention camp, the congressional delegation visited a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas. McGovern said people legally seeking asylum were denied that opportunity, forced to wait in shelters under dangerous conditions.

“As a congressman, as a citizen, I felt ashamed,” he said. The delegation also visited the Mexican side of the border to serve a meal to some of the migrants waiting to cross.

The congressional tour took place amid disunity within the Democratic Party over how to push back against the Trump administration's immigration policies. 

On June 27, Democratic centrists in the House worked with Republicans to pass a supplemental $4.6 billion border aid package that included none of the protections for immigrants that more progressive Democrats had called for. 

The final vote tally was 305 to 102, with 176 Republicans joining with 129 Democrats to pass the bill, which angered more liberal members of the caucus. McGovern was one of those who voted against the appropriation, saying it didn’t have any of the checks and balances needed to ensure it would ease the situation.

“I don’t want to appropriate money for this administration to use it as they see fit,” McGovern said, adding that the money could now simply be diverted to whatever the Trump administration decides. “I think what is happening on the border in so many respects is inhumane, and we need to fix this … Just trusting this administration to do the right thing — I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” 

Understanding the history of U.S. foreign policy is key to understanding some of the conditions migrants are fleeing in their home countries, McGovern said. He referred to the fact that the United States spent billions funding military dictatorships, death squads and civil war in Central America in the 1980s, then did little to help rebuild those same countries.

“We just kind of walked away,” McGovern said. “We ceased being interested in what’s happening in these countries — countries where now criminality is common everywhere, where security forces operate with impunity, where there’s massive corruption.

“If people really want to figure out a way to slow migration,” he added, “maybe we ought to be working to help stabilize some of these countries.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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