With debate continuing to rage nationally about the conditions for people detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, one Chattanooga pastor traveled more than 1,000 miles to see what was happening in one of the busiest facilities.
Last weekend, Kevin Wallace toured the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention center in Clint, Texas. The lead pastor at Redemption to the Nations Church on Bailey Avenue was among several pastors from across the country who traveled with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference to the facility.
Wallace said his trip was in response to disturbing reports of maltreatment at the facility. The Clint border facility became the scene of national attention in late June after a group of lawyers interviewed 60 children held at the facility. The lawyers said border patrol agents there were neglecting the children and failing to meet basic standards of health and hygiene, such as not providing soap or toothbrushes to the children.
Shortly after the visit, Wallace wrote a nearly 1,000-word Facebook post sharing what he saw. His comments rebutted reports of maltreatment of migrant children at the border. He wrote the floors of the facility were so clean he could have eaten off of them.
Wallace said he met with more than 15 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and customs agents, whom he described as professional and caring. The officers are being unfairly attacked, Wallace said.
"The crisis is not with ICE and Border Patrol," he said.
In a government report released Tuesday, federal inspectors found consistent overcrowding at several immigrant detention facilities and violations of federal law in caring for detained migrants.
After reports of the conditions at Clint, customs officials moved some children out from the facility. Wallace did not speak with any of the children there. The Chattanooga pastor said he went to see how his church could help with the border crisis, something church leaders are still discussing.
Wallace said he had received pushback to his social media post from people claiming he went to the border for political reasons. The children being held at Clint survived tremendous dangers coming to the United States, he said. While the conditions there are sanitary, he was not saying they are luxurious, he said.
"Clint Detention Center is not a Holiday Inn," Wallace said. "It was not plush. It was not a place I would want to raise my children in."
In the past year, both political parties have used the border crisis for political talking points and campaign rallies, but the stories coming from each side vary widely.
This week, a group of House Democrats that toured several federal facilities, including Clint, said the conditions were dehumanizing and customs agents were uncooperative.
Among those who went to the border was Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas and twin brother of presidential candidate Julian Castro, who told the Associated Press: "When we went into the cell, it was clear that the water was not running in fact, one of the women said that she was told by an agent to drink from the toilet."
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted: "Many of these illegal 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."
Such differing reports about the same issue, in this case immigration, are confusing for the larger public, said Todd Womack, president and CEO of Bridge Public Affairs and former chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. The increased attention on a place paired with the current political polarization creates the assessments whose conclusions are often in conflict.
"Anytime you have something that's been so polarized from both ends of the spectrum, you bring your own perspective to the table when you go view the facility or whatever," Womack said. "Undoubtedly, this is a politically charged issue for both the right and left. Depending on which side they're coming [from], that will influence what they see and what they emphasize."