Letters of deploring overcrowded conditions in migrant detention centers sent last week to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, drew ire for House Democrats on Wednesday from the Northeast Texas congressman.
“Unfortunately, Democrats in Congress are refusing to address this escalating and worrisome overcrowding issue,” Gohmert wrote in an email to the Longview News-Journal. “Their refusal to address the border crisis is ultimately encouraging more and more illegal immigrants to make the dangerous trip to our border while bringing very young children — creating heartbreaking injury and death.”
Gohmert acknowledged a damning Department of Homeland Security report on overcrowding at adult and children’s facilities on the border that was released July 2, even as about a dozen constituents delivered letters of criticism to his Longview field office. The effort was organized by local Democrats.
The congressman did not say in his Wednesday email whether he had read any of the letters sent last week. He did not address any specific problems cited in the letters, other than to blame Democrats.
“The Department of Homeland Security is entirely correct when they describe the border situation in their recent Office of Inspector General Report report as ‘an acute and worsening crisis,’” he wrote. “Hopefully, those complaining will encourage the Democratic Party to help us stop the massive illegal invasion without any place to put those coming in illegally.”
The report by the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security described conditions at the children and adult migrant detention centers as “a ticking time bomb.”
Inspectors documented children going for days without hot meals and lacking access to showers and clean clothes. Minors were held for weeks instead of being transferred within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services as required by law, the report said.
Fifty women were found living in a large cell designed for 40 juveniles, and adults were refusing to return to filthy cells, the report said.
Longview attorney Mary Lou Tevebaugh had joined the letter writers outside Gohmert’s Gregg County Courthouse office late July 2, fresh from visiting the children’s detention facility in Clint where she attended a protest led by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. She briefly described what she’s been able to observe from outside the facility.
“There were guards on the roof,” she said. “Of course, we couldn’t get in, but it looked for everything like a prison. It didn’t look like a place for children.”
Gohmert had replied to news of the letters last week by saying he’d like to hear any firsthand accounts if any of the letter writers had visited the centers. He also said he relies on the assessments of border patrol officers.
When Tevebaugh read the congressman’s comments in the next day’s News-Journal, she printed a copy of the inspector general’s report and made a second trip to Gohmert’s field office.
“It talks about the overcrowding in that report,” she said. “And the sanitary environment — they are not getting baths, they are not getting showers. It’s also a danger to the officers that are guarding them. I think he should be interested in that. He seems to think everything’s OK.”
Tevebaugh said Field Officer Shannon Crisp referred her to the congressman’s district director in Tyler, Jonna Fitzgerald Boersma. She telephoned but couldn’t get Boersma on the line.
“The receptionist was just, like, ‘Didn’t you just call here? We gave her your message,’” she said.
Gohmert indicated Wednesday that a fix for problems at the centers rests with the majority party in the House.
“Republicans have been relentlessly trying to get the Democrats to allocate funding for additional beds at the detention facilities,” he wrote. “However, they have not only refused to fund additional detention beds, their actions continue to encourage people around the world to come illegally into the U.S. It is imperative that Congress fix the loopholes in our asylum laws which would eliminate the backlog of immigration cases. Right now, it is critical that both parties work together to end this problem once and for all. Yet, Democrats seem more interested in fanning the flames of exaggerated news reports while encouraging more to continue the dangerous unlawful trip.”
Tevebaugh indicated she expects her congressman to stand up against conditions on the border rather than make partisan comments.
“We’re better than that,” she said.