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'What Are They Hiding?': Julián Castro Denied Access To Border Patrol Facility


We're going to begin the program in Texas talking about an issue that's become even more intense and emotional than usual, and that is immigration. The issue of who should be allowed to come to the U.S. and under what circumstances and the conditions that await them all surged back into the forefront after a photo went viral of a man and his young daughter who had drowned in the Rio Grande River while trying to apply for asylum. And there were new accounts describing poor conditions in detention centers housing migrant children. Democratic presidential candidates who met in two debates earlier this week had a lot to say about that. We're going to hear more on that this hour.

But first, we're going to hear from one of the candidates who's made immigration a central issue. Julian Castro is a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration. He's a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. He's in the El Paso area, where he tried to visit a border facility that houses unaccompanied minors - one of the facilities that's been criticized by immigration lawyers for unsanitary and inappropriate conditions for children. He's with us now to tell us more.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

JULIAN CASTRO: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So reports came out about 10 days ago describing deplorable conditions in a Border Patrol facility, including at Clint, has since opened its doors to journalists, who reported back that it seemed to be more orderly and sanitary than expected. Were you able to get access to the facility? And what did you see?

CASTRO: I wasn't. I tried to visit the facility a couple of hours ago with three state representatives, including a representative whose district includes that facility. And we were told that we could not see the facility.

MARTIN: What was the basis on which you were denied?

CASTRO: They said that we need to request a formal tour. And this is the problem. You know, I was at Homestead yesterday - the facility in Florida that houses 2,700 mostly teenage migrants. You think about it - they do these guided tours only at very specific times when they have a lot of notice about when people are going to come through. I'm told that lawyers who represent the kids in there have to sign a nondisclosure agreement so that they can't talk about the conditions in there.

It makes you wonder, what are they hiding? Why do we keep seeing images of overcrowding and of terrible living conditions, and then journalists go in there on one of these guided tours, and everything seems to be fine?

MARTIN: You visited another community center where there are migrant families or children. What did they tell you? Have you been able to get any reports? Or did any people who'd been in those facilities have anything to say to you about what the conditions were there?

CASTRO: Well, they - what I've been told is that, you know, the kids that are in there - of course, they range in ages, but a lot of them are experiencing depression, a lot of anxiety, of course, at being separated from their parents. They want to know basic things like when they're going to see their family again. Those are the kinds of things that people tell me they hear when they visit.

Also, I visited with advocates and activists as well faith leaders and lawyers - just a cross-section of people who work on the issue of immigration and try and help migrants. And their biggest frustration is the lack of transparency and accountability for the - from these detention facilities and the administration in general.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, the Trump administration says, you know, obviously that they do believe conditions for those detained are adequate. They've argued that in judicial proceedings that they do believe the conditions are adequate. But they also say that they would prefer that asylum seekers wait in a second country like Mexico, for example, while they're waiting for their petitions to be addressed. And your response to that is what?

CASTRO: This flies in the face of how we've done immigration in the United States for generations. There were times when more people that are coming today were coming to the United States, and we are a big enough nation to actually handle this. This administration says that it can't find the money for soap and toothbrushes for little children.

But at the same time, people will remember that a few months ago, they suddenly and magically found a billion dollars and took it out of other budgets in the federal government for the wall that this president wants to build. How in the world is it that they can overnight find a billion dollars, but they can't find the money to pay for soap and toothbrushes for these little children? It don't make any sense. They have no credibility anymore.

MARTIN: That's Julian Castro. He's a candidate for president. He's a Democrat. He's a former secretary of housing and a former mayor of San Antonio. We reached him in the El Paso area as he's attempting to visit border facilities where migrant children are being housed.

Mr. Castro, thank you so much for talking to us.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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