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Trump claims migrant detention center visited by Pence was ‘clean but crowded’

Martin Pengelly in New York
* VP had said McAllen facility was told ‘not to clean up’ * Report of cages and ‘overwhelming stench’ stoked online furyA Texas detention center which Vice-President Mike Pence visited on Friday, seeing migrants packed into cages amid what one reporter called an “overwhelming” stench, was in fact “clean but crowded”, Donald Trump claimed on Sunday morning.That contradicted a statement issued by Pence’s office on Friday, which said it had “specifically instructed [Customs and Border Protection] to not clean up or sanitize the facility beyond what is routine so the American people could see how serious the crisis at our border is”.US authorities at the southern border are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants from Central America, in what most agree is a spiralling humanitarian crisis. Press reports and official accounts have shown migrants of all ages held in spartan and squalid conditions.The Trump administration blames Democrats in Congress. Democrats accuse the administration of willfully making the problem worse. Some have likened the holding centers to concentration camps, a particularly emotive suggestion.On Sunday Trump ally Lindsey Graham, one of a group of Republican senators who accompanied Pence to Texas, told Fox Business Network’s Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo: “This is not a concentration camp that I saw, it is a facility overwhelmed.”The South Carolina senator also said: “I don’t care if they have to stay in these facilities for 400 days. We’re not going to let those men go that I saw. It would be dangerous.“All of them broke our law. Many of them have done it before. And we’re not going to let them go.”Before playing golf near Washington on Sunday, the president followed incendiary remarks about progressive Democratic women with a two-tweet volley about Pence’s visit to centers in Donna and McAllen.Referring to the first visit in which Pence and eight senators saw a facility which held children and mothers, Trump wrote: “Friday’s tour showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are. Great reviews!”After taking a familiar shot at reporting by the New York Times, he said “the adult single men areas were clean but crowded” and said without offering evidence such areas were “also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals”.“Sorry, can’t let them into our country. If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix [immigration law] loopholes – Problem Solved!”Pence’s visit to McAllen became the eye of an online storm. The press pool was swiftly removed from the room containing the caged men but Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post tweeted his impressions and pictures.He wrote: “VP saw 384 men sleeping inside fences, on concrete w[ith] no pillows or mats. They said they hadn’t showered in weeks, wanted toothbrushes, food. Stench was overwhelming. [Customs and Border Protection] said they were fed regularly, could brush daily [and] recently got access to shower (many hadn’t for 10-20 days).”Dawsey contested official descriptions of conditions and how long the men had been there and wrote that the “heat was sweltering” though “CBP said it was air conditioned”. The cages were so crowded it was impossible for all the men to lie on the concrete floor, he said.Dawsey said Pence’s office said the vice-president “wanted press to see the McAllen facility but that secret service had concerns about him going inside”.At a news conference, Pence said: “Look, this is tough stuff.” He also said: “I knew we’d see a system that is overcrowded. It’s overwhelmed and that’s why Congress has to act.”On Sunday Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, told ABC’s This Week: “Congress has let it happen. It’s that simple.”He rejected the suggestion the migrants’ human rights were being violated and said overcrowding was “a reality of facilities not designed to handle the swamping at the border”.To the contention that “even the most hardened criminals in our criminal justice system are not treated like that, death row inmates don’t live in conditions like that”, Cuccinelli said: “Well that’s because we have a much slower flow of people coming into our prisons.”On Sunday, Dawsey responded to Trump’s tweets.“The men,” he wrote, “crammed inside fences, were sleeping on concrete and said they hadn’t showered in many days. It was sweltering hot and the stench was horrific.”

A Texas detention center which Vice-President Mike Pence visited on Friday, seeing migrants packed into cages amid what one reporter called an “overwhelming” stench, was in fact “clean but crowded”, Donald Trump claimed on Sunday morning.

Related: Trump tells Ocasio-Cortez and other female progressives to 'go back' to 'original' countries

That contradicted a statement issued by Pence’s office on Friday, which said it had “specifically instructed [Customs and Border Protection] to not clean up or sanitize the facility beyond what is routine so the American people could see how serious the crisis at our border is”.

US authorities at the southern border are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants from Central America, in what most agree is a spiralling humanitarian crisis. Press reports and official accounts have shown migrants of all ages held in spartan and squalid conditions.

The Trump administration blames Democrats in Congress. Democrats accuse the administration of willfully making the problem worse. Some have likened the holding centers to concentration camps, a particularly emotive suggestion.

On Sunday Trump ally Lindsey Graham, one of a group of Republican senators who accompanied Pence to Texas, told Fox Business Network’s Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo: “This is not a concentration camp that I saw, it is a facility overwhelmed.”

The South Carolina senator also said: “I don’t care if they have to stay in these facilities for 400 days. We’re not going to let those men go that I saw. It would be dangerous.

“All of them broke our law. Many of them have done it before. And we’re not going to let them go.”

Before playing golf near Washington on Sunday, the president followed incendiary remarks about progressive Democratic women with a two-tweet volley about Pence’s visit to centers in Donna and McAllen.

Referring to the first visit in which Pence and eight senators saw a facility which held children and mothers, Trump wrote: “Friday’s tour showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are. Great reviews!”

After taking a familiar shot at reporting by the New York Times, he said “the adult single men areas were clean but crowded” and said without offering evidence such areas were “also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals”.

“Sorry, can’t let them into our country. If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix [immigration law] loopholes – Problem Solved!”

Pence’s visit to McAllen became the eye of an online storm. The press pool was swiftly removed from the room containing the caged men but Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post tweeted his impressions and pictures.

He wrote: “VP saw 384 men sleeping inside fences, on concrete w[ith] no pillows or mats. They said they hadn’t showered in weeks, wanted toothbrushes, food. Stench was overwhelming. [Customs and Border Protection] said they were fed regularly, could brush daily [and] recently got access to shower (many hadn’t for 10-20 days).”

Dawsey contested official descriptions of conditions and how long the men had been there and wrote that the “heat was sweltering” though “CBP said it was air conditioned”. The cages were so crowded it was impossible for all the men to lie on the concrete floor, he said.

Dawsey said Pence’s office said the vice-president “wanted press to see the McAllen facility but that secret service had concerns about him going inside”.

At a news conference, Pence said: “Look, this is tough stuff.” He also said: “I knew we’d see a system that is overcrowded. It’s overwhelmed and that’s why Congress has to act.”

Related: Immigration raids across US spark anxiety, anger and protests

On Sunday Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, told ABC’s This Week: “Congress has let it happen. It’s that simple.”

He rejected the suggestion the migrants’ human rights were being violated and said overcrowding was “a reality of facilities not designed to handle the swamping at the border”.

To the contention that “even the most hardened criminals in our criminal justice system are not treated like that, death row inmates don’t live in conditions like that”, Cuccinelli said: “Well that’s because we have a much slower flow of people coming into our prisons.”

On Sunday, Dawsey responded to Trump’s tweets.

“The men,” he wrote, “crammed inside fences, were sleeping on concrete and said they hadn’t showered in many days. It was sweltering hot and the stench was horrific.”