Massachusetts Congresswoman Lori Trahan has returned from a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, where she toured facilities being used to detain migrant children. WGBH's Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Trahan about what she saw at those facilities. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: You describe the conditions on Twitter, and I'd like to read them. You write, "toddlers quarantined in an 8 by 10 room, sleeping on the floor with the flu. Young girl in a hot warehouse coloring, with a chain link fence around her. Women sobbing in a crowded cell, because they were separated from their kids." Congresswoman Trahan, this sounds heartbreaking.
Congresswoman Lori Trahan: It was. I knew I needed to travel to the border to see firsthand the conditions that we've been reading about. When you're the mom of two small girls, it's more than heartbreaking. You're full of rage [and] full of tears. These facilities are not meant for children. That was the biggest takeaway. The people who are housing our children [are] not equipped. They don't have the tools. This is not what they're trained to do. They're enforcement officials, and these facilities are not set up. Some of these facilities are built to process kids or families in a 72 hour time frame — 100 people. These places have been housing 700 people at certain points. It's devastating to see it.
Mathieu: You were also greeted by a group of Trump supporters, who I understand were very vocal about their feelings about you?
Trahan: Yeah, when we arrived at the Clint facility, there were protesters on both sides. It was a tense day all around. And unfortunately, as everyone heard, the trip coincided with an alarming story that broke yesterday, where 9,500 of the Custom Border Patrol officers and employees are members of a secret Facebook group that was built around racism and sexism, and making jokes about migrant children dying in our custody. There [are] 20,000 total agents, 9,500 are in this group, every other person that you meet is pretty hostile about us coming down and doing our oversight role. So whether it was the protesters outside, or the people inside, it was tense.
Mathieu: Well, I wanted to ask you about that. I saw you tweeted as well about this Facebook scandal. You've called this behavior inexcusable. What were your interactions like with Border Patrol agents?
Trahan: We mostly met with leadership, who assured us that they were going to investigate. But it still doesn't matter; the reports were disgusting. You may have read the posts yourself about them targeting members of the delegation that I was traveling with. All of us. If people who traffic this hateful, bigoted speech or joke about migrant children dying in our custody, I just don't believe they deserve to wear any uniform of the United States. So we went in as members of the U.S. House Congress, fulfilling our duty of oversight, and we put that aside so that we could come away with what we're going to do next as a result of what we saw, what we observed and how we're going to change the practices that are being carried out right now at the border.
Mathieu: I'd like to ask you about that way forward, Congresswoman. Now that you've been to the border and you know how inflexible the Trump administration has been on this issue, what can you do as a lawmaker to improve it?
Trahan: Sharing the story of what I saw is really important. The reality is people here back home, while we read about it, it's another thing to hear about a full blown humanitarian crisis that we have because of this mismanagement. So I do think that there is some legislative action that we're going to take immediately. I was joined with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I was there with Reps. Kennedy and Pressley, and as we were leaving [we were] talking about how we're going to bring back dignity for our detained immigrants. There's legislation to that effect. For me, seven children dying in U.S. custody is too many. I don't want to just be notified as a congressperson, I want there to be an automatic hearing. I want there to be people accounting for what happened. And I think that should be a public hearing, and I think that should be automatically triggered when someone dies in our custody so that we can change the culture immediately.
We need to recognize the fact that these facilities are not built for keeping people for long periods of time. These are processing facilities. We also need to understand that the people that we are holding are children, and that requires childcare providers [and] counselors. These kids are traumatized. I was trying to imagine that the cell that I was looking at, which is built to hold 100 people, who just two months ago had 700 children in that facility. And there [are] only a handful of showers, disposable paper towels. And I think about the kids that I saw. They're five years old. They're so completely frightened and traumatized already because they've been separated from their loved ones, and now they're in a condition where they don't know what to do. We're exacerbating it so much more, and it's wrong. We have to make sure that we fix those conditions immediately.