WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Tom Reed Friday toured the same facilities in McAllen, Texas, that house thousands of asylum-seekers from Central America – but you would never know it based on how the two lawmakers described what they saw.
"It’s been a very, very difficult day," Schumer told reporters after he and several of his Democratic colleagues toured the facilities. "To see these people, particularly the children, treated in such inhumane conditions just tears at your heartstrings and really makes you feel awful."
Schumer posted a video of one of the facilities on Twitter, which showed asylum-seekers sitting on mats on the floor behind a wire fence.
Humans being locked in cages. To see these people, coming to America in search of a better life, treated in such inhumane conditions.
This is heart-wrenching. This is wrong. This is not who we are.
This has to end. Now. pic.twitter.com/wuypxDzXIL
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 20, 2019
"Humans being locked in cages," Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. "To see these people, coming to America in search of a better life, treated in such inhumane conditions – this is heart-wrenching. This is wrong. This is not who we are. This has to end. Now."
Reed saw the same thing, and in an interview Saturday, called it "impactful" and "emotional." But he came away with a far different impression than Schumer did.
"What I saw was humane treatment of people that are being processed," said Reed, a Republican from Corning who co-chairs the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, which toured the facilities as a group. "And because of the crisis-level magnitude of the influx of people coming, you're going to have optics that any human being will rationally respond to emotionally."
Asked about asylum-seekers being held in what appeared to be cages, and about their complaints that they did not have access to cots or toothbrushes, Reed said: "Those are all provided. And there's supplies, there's clothing, there's food, there's shelter. There's security, but you got to remember, these are the facilities that are getting the immediate influx of people."
Similarly, Schumer and Reed blamed different people for the humanitarian crisis at the border. The Democratic senator took aim at the Republican Trump administration – and the Republican congressman from the Southern Tier blamed lawmakers like Schumer.
Schumer said he saw one decent border facility run by Catholic Charities, but added that the government-run facilities weren't close to that standard.
"The damn shame of it all is it comes from the top," Schumer said. "If the policymaking from the top changes, there could be many more facilities like the Catholic Charities facility we saw, which was really not great, but certainly decent. Rather than the facilities like this, where it’s just awful, awful, awful to see how these people are being treated."
Meantime, Reed blamed lawmakers who, for years, failed to fix the nation's immigration system.
"What I saw was a broken system that leaders – political leaders such as Chuck Schumer – should be fixing, rather than blaming America and implying that this is somehow created by these (border) agents, by this administration," Reed said. "The people that do that are to me, are not leaders. They're politicians. And they should be ashamed of themselves."
The two lawmakers also seemed to have very different impressions of the asylum-seekers they saw.
"If you listen to the president, you’d think they were all criminals," Schumer said. "They’re not. They’re people simply seeking some safety, some honor, some decency for their children."
But Reed noted that the asylum-seekers broke the law by merely crossing the American border.
As for the facilities in which they are housed, Reed said his colleagues who had been to the border before said conditions had improved after a recent influx of federal funds that Congress recently approved thanks in part to the Problem Solvers' actions.
Schumer and Reed agreed on one point: that major changes in immigration law are needed to prevent waves of additional asylum-seekers from coming to America and encountering the same conditions.
"We have a solution that could work," Schumer said. "It’s a horrible trek. We talked to people going through this long trek; most of them took more than a month with their tiny little children with them. Let them apply for asylum in Honduras, in Guatemala, and El Salvador, and things could be fairer and a lot easier."
Reed said he and the Problem Solvers met for an hour after their tour. They did not come up with any immediate proposed solutions, but he said the group, Republicans and Democrats alike, would be working to do so.
"To say, 60 minutes after spending one day at the border, that we're going to get a magic bullet and present a solution would be just playing into political pandering," Reed said. "It would not be sustainable."