On Friday, Vice-President Mike Pence and Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, and Mike Lee visited two migrant-detention centers near the border in Texas. As suggested by each man’s posture in a widely shared photo, neither Pence nor Graham was exactly filled with sympathy at the sight of detained migrants living in conditions that a recent Department of Homeland Security report called a “ticking time bomb.”
On Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures, Graham gave voice to his body language, saying: “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.” The South Carolina senator framed detained migrants in a criminal light, saying it “would be dangerous” to release migrants “who have been here before” and “broke the law before.” But as Slate’s Daniel Politi writes: “As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham should probably know that merely seeking asylum in the United States is not against the law.”
Graham, who said that “this was not a concentration camp that I saw,” also repeated an unsubstantiated myth broadcast by the president and the Department of Homeland Security during the last government shutdown: the idea that the southern border represents a point of entry for terrorists. “A terrorist could easily get in this group,” Graham said. “We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.” But as a State Department report from September 2018 found, there is “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
In another widely shared moment from the visits, a video shows Pence looking expressionlessly at a room of detained men behind a chain-link fence, for which Pence was lambasted for appearing “callous” and like a “fake Christian.”
After his visit, Pence said, “And while we hear some Democrats in Washington, D.C., referring to U.S. Customs and Border facilities as ‘concentration camps,’ what we saw today was a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of.” On Twitter, he added that “we took reporters to a detention facility on the border for families and children and all told us they were being treated well.” He omitted to mention the migrant in the video telling reporters that there was “no bathroom, no shower” when the vice-president appeared to be just a few feet away.