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Vice President Pence to visit border amid outcry over conditions at migrant detention centers

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/8/2019 Maureen Groppe
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WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the southern border Friday, the same day that House Democrats are holding a hearing on dangerous conditions at overcrowded migrant detention centers.

Pence tweeted Monday that he is going to McAllen, Texas, home to one of the federal detention centers contributing to what federal investigators have called a "ticking time bomb."

Pence said he will be accompanied by his wife and a bipartisan delegation of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

An inspector general's report released last week described conditions at overcrowded detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley as “a ticking time bomb."

Border Patrol managers told investigators that men had clogged toilets with Mylar blankets or socks to get out of cells during maintenance. Pictures in the report showed migrants crowded behind chain-link fences in a McAllen, Texas, facility or huddling under blankets on the floor. Detainees banged on windows, shouted and pointed to their beards to demonstrate the length of their stays, as investigators from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General Office visited five facilities during the week of June 10.

Watchdog report: Photos show dangerous conditions at Border Patrol sites for migrants

The stuff of nightmares: Inside the migrant detention center in Clint, Texas

As he announced his McAllen trip, Pence welcomed passage of an emergency aid bill for the border but said on Twitter that "much more must be done to SECURE our border & end this crisis!"

In a speech Monday morning to Christians United for Israel, Pence blamed "Democrat obstruction" for problems at the border. 

Pence accused Democrats of initially denying there was a crisis and said that held up funding to help the situation. He also accused Democrats of refusing "to close the loopholes used by human traffickers to exploit those vulnerable families."

"We will provide compassionate relief to vulnerable families swept up in the crisis,' Pence said. "And we will fix this broken immigration system once and for all."

But Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has accused the administration of "open contempt for the rule of law and for basic human decency" in its treatment of migrants.

The committee has asked Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border protection, to testify before the panel Friday.

a group of people in a room: This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 11, 2019, in Weslaco, Texas. © Eric Baradat, DHS/ Office of the Inspector General via AFP/Getty Images This image released in a report on July 2, 2019, by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Office (OIG) shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 11, 2019, in Weslaco, Texas. Haunting drawings: Doctors share migrant children's view of detention centers

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The conditions arose as apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley have more than doubled in the past year, with 223,263 apprehensions from October through May, compared to 99,835 during the same period a year earlier, according to the Border Patrol. The largest increase occurred with families, which skyrocketed to 135,812 apprehensions during the first eight months of the year from 36,773 a year earlier.

CBP facilities are designed for short stays, before adults are passed along to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and children move to Health and Human Services facilities. But because ICE and HHS facilities are also overcrowded, CBP is unable to move its detainees.

Contributing: Bart Jansen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vice President Pence to visit border amid outcry over conditions at migrant detention centers

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