‘I Did Not Find Deplorable Conditions’: Hispanic Pastor Disputes Ocasio-Cortez’s Claims at Border Facility

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
July 3, 2019 Updated: July 3, 2019

A prominent Hispanic pastor has responded to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) after the freshman congresswoman hit back at reports that criticized her for misrepresenting the conditions in detention facilities at the southern border.

Earlier this week, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that the conditions at a border patrol facility visited by Ocasio-Cortez were “drastically different” to what had been previously described in the media and by politicians.

The Democratic congresswoman subsequently pushed back at the backlash, saying that her claims are “corroborated by other members of Congress, court documents, migrant testimony, and now photos released today by the Inspector General.”

In an appearance on Fox @ Night on July 2, Rodriguez stood by the comments he made on July 1 during a press conference, saying what he saw at a border patrol detention center in El Paso County, Texas, was nothing like what was described by politicians like Ocasio-Cortez.

“I must be living in a parallel universe somewhere … I did not find soiled diapers. I did not find crying children. I did not find deplorable conditions,” Rodriguez said during the program.

“Quite the opposite. I found amazing people on both sides trying to make a very difficult circumstance better. I don’t know where everyone else is visiting!” he added.

He continued, “I spoke to border patrol agents, the vast majority of which are Latino and many attended churches that are part of our network, and I asked, ‘Hey guys, did you stage this? Did you flip the script to accommodate people like me?’ And they went ‘Pastor Sam, absolutely not. You are looking at the very thing that existed here for a number of weeks, so it’s not that we shifted because of any deplorable conditions that were discovered.'”

Ocasio-Cortez was part of a group of Democratic lawmakers who were visiting several Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) stations at the southern border on July 1, following reports at least 250 children were detained in dirty and overcrowded conditions with inadequate food and lack of medical care at the facility. After visiting one of the facilities, she made a series of accusations on the conditions of the facilities and detainees. The most disturbing of them all was a claim that the detainees were forced to drink out of a toilet bowl.

In the interview with Fox, Rodriguez said, like Ocasio-Cortez, he visited the Clint Border Patrol detention center with a group of pastors on June 28 following the same reports.

The pastor said during his visit he discovered that the attorneys who made the initial claims about the children had “never, ever walked through the center.”

“They never visited what I visited. They took that information anecdotally to interviews with children, with children mind you, from the age of 2 to the age of 17. The truth sets you free,” he said.

During a press conference on July 1, Rodriguez said his experiences left him with a different perspective on the facility and border patrol agents, Fox News reported.

“I read the reports, saw the news clips. I just wanted to see what was actually happening in order to better enable our efforts to find a fair and a just solution to our broken immigration system,” Rodriguez said during the press conference.

“To my surprise, I saw something drastically different from the stories I’ve been hearing in our national discourse. Even as a veteran of immigration advocacy in the U.S., I was shocked at the misinformation of the crisis at the border,” he added.

Rodriguez, who is an adviser for President Donald Trump and has previously advised Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush on immigration reform, said the Border Patrol agents’ compassion and dedication to their work made him feel encouraged.

“Pastor Sam, what they’re saying about us is completely false. We care about these kids and have a passion for our calling,” the agents told Rodriguez.

Other pastors have shared similar experiences to Rodriguez’s account.

Kevin Wallace, a pastor of Redemption to the Nations Church, who visited the facility with Rodriguez also disputed Ocasio-Cortez’s claims, calling them “totally absurd.”

“The congresswoman is entitled to her opinion, but her opinion should never shape the truth,” Wallace told “Fox & Friends” on July 3. “The truth doesn’t have a side. The truth stands on its own and people with integrity have got to make up their mind to stand on the side of truth, and the facts that we saw were there.”

On July 3, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter addressing the comments made by Democratic lawmakers during their recent visits at the border facilities.

“Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors, or nurses. The Democrats bad Immigration Laws, which could be easily fixed, are the problem. Great job by Border Patrol, above and beyond,” Trump wrote.

“Many of these illegals aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions. No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are. Just Pols. If they really want to fix them, change the Immigration Laws and Loopholes. So easy to do!” he continued.

“Now, if you really want to fix the Crisis at the Southern Border, both humanitarian and otherwise, tell migrants not to come into our country unless they are willing to do so legally, and hopefully through a system based on Merit. This way we have no problems at all!”

Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.