Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke joined activists and organizers in Houston on Saturday for a protest at a detention facility for migrant children.
Dozens of Houstonians joined the protest at Southwest Key, a non-profit facility downtown that houses unaccompanied migrant children, as well as children separated from their parents under the Trump administration.
At the protest, O’Rourke spoke of the inhumane conditions that migrant children in America were facing because of Trump’s punitive approach to immigration.
“This country today, at their most desperate and vulnerable moment, puts [migrants] in cages, [and] keeps them in border patrol facilities,” O’Rourke said.
The former El Paso congressman is scheduled to visit a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility on Sunday in Clint, Texas where more than 300 children were recently removed after being detained under appalling conditions.
Echoing Associated Press reports that first revealed those conditions, O’Rourke said migrant children were “sleeping on concrete floors, under aluminum blankets” and border officials had “children soiled in the clothes that they’ve been wearing for weeks if not months, toddlers without diapers, shitting on the floor they will sleep on that same night, kids taking care of kids, separated from their parents, no idea when or even if they will seem them again.”
O’Rourke said “the most powerful country on the face of this planet” was “doing this to the least of us at this moment.”
The 2020 candidate’s trip to Houston comes days after his appearance in the first debate of the Democratic presidential primaries, where he and Julián Castro had a dust up over immigration policy.
O’Rourke is leading Joe Biden by three points in Texas, according to the latest Change Research poll.
During the Saturday protest, O’Rourke called out Southwest Key, the nonprofit currently under federal investigation that has received $1.8 billion in taxpayer money to house detained migrant children over the past decade.
“At a minimum, let us come inside and see how those kids are doing, let us ask those kids how they are doing,” O’Rourke said to cheers. “We are all accountable for those kids.”
This week, following reports of conditions for migrant children, Congress passed a Republican-led Senate bill that will provide $4.6 billion in emergency aid and enhanced security for agencies handling the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill does not include guaranteed health and safety standards for detention centers, which House Democrats attempted to include after the detention facility in Clint was revealed to have inhumane conditions for migrant children.
In an interview after the protest, O’Rourke told the Texas Signal he lamented the fact that the House version of the bill was unable to pass. “We were just talking about accountability,” O’Rourke said. “Those mechanisms for accountability, the ability to ensure that money is not used to inflict additional torture and cruelty on kids.”
Asked if he would have voted for the bill if he was still a member of Congress, O’Rourke said members of the House “ultimately had to vote for that.”
“I’m going to Clint, Texas tomorrow. We know that kids are being kept in the most inhumane conditions without even diapers for toddlers or toothbrushes or soap to clean themselves,” O’Rourke said. “I want to make sure that resources get to those kids. I really wish that the House version of that bill would have prevailed but I completely understand the choice they were faced with in the House.”
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org