Rep. Mike Levin Tours San Diego Border Facilities
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / August 29, 2019
Congressmen Mike Levin and Juan Vargas visited the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station, the Otay Mesa Detention Center and a migrant shelter to get a first-hand look at the conditions inside some of San Diego's immigration detention facilities.
Speaker 1: 00:00 To San Diego area, democratic members of Congress, Mike Levin and Juan Vargas toward local border facilities. This week, the visit took place on the same day. A new report was released by UC San Diego researchers that highlights unsanitary conditions and abuses at migrant detention centers along the US Mexico border. Congressman Mike Levin of the 49 congressional district was at the border yesterday and joins us now via Skype. Congressman Levin, welcome. Thanks. Always good to be with you. As I mentioned, a new report from UC San Diego Paints a pretty grim picture of what it's like inside some of these detention facilities. Migrants describe being given spoiled food, dirty water, overcrowding, and there's also evidence of physical and verbal abuse. Did you witness any of that here at the local border facilities you visited?
Speaker 2: 00:48 Well, uh, no, not firsthand. I, I do though a respect that report. I, uh, I know a Tom Wong, uh, its author and, uh, I take very seriously, uh, all of the comments from detainees that were included. I, I read it, uh, and I asked tough questions. So when I went and I toured a our local border facilities, uh, sure. You know, I mean, how would you describe the conditions at the facility you visited yesterday? You know, we took a fairly comprehensive, uh, tour yesterday, not only of Oti Mesa, uh, but also of the Chula Vista Border Patrol station. Uh, and the San Diego Rapid Response Network, migrant shelter, uh, in downtown. The Oti Mesa facility is a large detention center. There are about 1500 people detainees in that facility of, you know, there are basic medical facilities. Uh, we did see, I am concerned that a, we, we heard that there was a report, I believe in the voice of San Diego recently, that those with HIV were not receiving the most, uh, modern types of treatment for that. And we'll be following up to ensure that that is, you know, improved through our, the facilities clean. Uh, for the most part they were.
Speaker 1: 01:58 So what do you think these facilities are different than the others that we've heard reports
Speaker 2: 02:02 about? Well, I think there's a couple things going on. One is that in a Greater San Diego area, we've got great partnerships with nonprofit organizations like a Jewish family services and the ACL ACU. And they have run these, uh, refugee shelters, uh, to give a, a place for, for folks to, to leave the detention centers. So in other words, the overcrowding that we've seen perhaps in places like Texas or in Florida perhaps doesn't exist the same extent in San Diego because there are places where refugee seekers can go other than just to detention facility. The other reason I think we don't see the type of overcrowding is the administration's policy, the remain in Mexico policy. It doesn't mean we've solved the problem. It means we just shifted the problem from the United States to Mexico. So my great concern is that while we may have alleviated some of the overcrowding at our facilities in San Diego and throughout the United States, that we've at the situation in Mexico far worse, and that net, the situation for refugee and asylum seekers is worse than it's ever been.
Speaker 1: 03:06 You mentioned talking with asylum seekers. What else did the people who are detained there? A, what did they share with you?
Speaker 2: 03:12 You know, that, uh, they are for the most part being treated fairly, uh, in with the basic humanity. Uh, they always, uh, you know, can do better in terms of things like food. You know, there, there were some complaints about the food from the, uh, commissary, uh, at the Oti Mesa facility. Three of the four, uh, women that we heard from all, all were moms. They were mothers who had multiple children who are United States citizens. Uh, and, uh, obviously breaks your heart to think about a mother who's not able to see their kids, their, their down in detention. Look, I mean, we had people that were in, uh, uh, San Diego and orange counties for a well over a decade, uh, who had legitimately fleed, uh, from very bad situations. Uh, one woman was from El Salvador. Um, but you know, obviously, uh, it's tragic. Uh, and we want to do everything we can to treat these people with decency and respect.
Speaker 1: 04:11 Now, the Trump administration is also diverting disaster relief funds to the border. Uh, homeland security has said it, plans to spend the money on detention beds, transportation costs, and on temporary hearing facilities for asylum seekers enrolled in that remain in Mexico program. Do you think the transfer of funds are valid? Well, I, I
Speaker 2: 04:30 deeply concerned about the, uh, human impact of the remain in Mexico program. I would have to take a look and really dive deep. We need more oversight on how those funds are going to be spent. Uh, the belief among the Trump administration is that if they're sent to Mexico, uh, that they're going to be in a, a surrounding where they, they do have adequate legal representation where they do have adequate, uh, health and safety, adequate nutrition. Uh, but unfortunately that's just not anecdotally what we are hearing. So I think it's questionable from a legal perspective. I think it's questionable, uh, from a basic perspective of treating people with humanity and respect. And we need more oversight to ensure that these funds are being used in a responsible and transparent manner.
Speaker 1: 05:14 What is Congress doing to provide relief to those migrants who are being held inside unsanitary immigration facilities?
Speaker 2: 05:21 Well, I, uh, cosponsored legislation to establish basic humanitarian standards of care for those in CBP custody, uh, as well as a other legislation require ice and CBP officers to wear body cameras. So they'll be held accountable. Uh, and we're also, uh, as I mentioned before, uh, uh, sponsoring legislation to ensure that, uh, DHS addresses the border issues, uh, in a far more humane way and creates more oversight and accountability measures within the DHS, uh, leadership. We're not asking for anybody to do anything, uh, irregular or inconsistent their values for, for many decades as Americans, which is when someone is seeking asylum, uh, that, uh, the United States of America stands ready to assist those who are legitimately seeking asylum from around the world. I have been speaking with San Diego Congressman Mike Levin, Congressman Levin. Thank you. Thanks. Always good to be with you.
Speaker 3: 06:20 Uh.