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Thompson: Increased attention helping improve conditions at migrant detention facilities

A scathing inspector general’s report, coupled with increased congressional and media attention, is helping reform U.S.-Mexico border detention facilities, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson said, following his trip with more than a dozen fellow House Democrats to what he called an overcrowded, inhumane center in McAllen, Texas.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, has visited border facilities before, but the Vietnam combat veteran said the detention center he toured July 13 was unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“There is no place you or I have ever been or had to stay that looks like this,” Thompson said in a phone interview Friday. “We treat our prisoners on death row better than the detainees at the border. These aren’t criminals; they haven’t been charged - especially the children. They’re being treated worse than we treat animals.”

Thompson said the conditions, including asylum seekers who hadn’t showered in three weeks or more and those quarantined after a meningitis outbreak, made him appreciate his vote two weeks ago to authorize emergency funds for the border crisis.

On June 27, the House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package, which became law July 1.

Thompson’s visit came a day after Vice President Mike Pence toured a similar site. Pence later called for more congressional action.

Addressing the problem also will require improving the conditions in the so-called Northern Triangle - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - that cause migrants to leave their countries and set out on the dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

“Conditions have to be pretty doggone bad,” Thompson said. “So we really need to look at the conditions in Central America and how we change our involvement, how we change past policy.”

The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which requires a report on the root causes of migration from Central America, passed the House on July 15 and was sent the following day to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Thompson said his No. 1 takeaway from the trip was how inappropriate it was to have border patrol agents staffing these types of facilities. He said the United States needs to get Border Patrol “out of the health and human services business.”

“Housing, feeding and (medically) treating individuals, that’s not the job of the Border Patrol,” Thompson said.

Before and since his trip, Thompson has received significant feedback from constituents concerned about the conditions in the camps, despite his district being hundreds of miles from the nearest U.S.-Mexico border crossing and about 2,000 miles from the detention center he visited.

For Thompson, that makes sense, pointing to California’s status as a border state.

“We depend heavily on immigrants in our district - the hospitality sector, the agricultural sector - it’s all very important to us,” Thompson said.

But there is a more general connection, too, he said.

“We are a humane people,” Thompson said. “And that should be everyone’s concern.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter?@tylersilvy

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