‘Tinderbox of violence’: Ocasio-Cortez tears into Stephen Miller over family separation

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday savaged White House adviser Stephen Miller for his role in engineering the administration’s family separation policy, accusing him of abetting the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

It is a policy of dehumanization, implemented by this executive administration, laid at the feet of Stephen Miller, that create[s] a tinderbox of violence and dehumanization where hurt people hurt people,” the New York Democrat said, testifying before a House Oversight Committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration directive.

Ocasio-Cortez was joined by three other members of Congress — Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — who earlier this month toured border patrol facilities where migrants are being held in what Democrats have described as unsanitary and unacceptable conditions. The lawmakers appeared before the Oversight committee Friday to report their findings and recount their interactions with detained migrants.

“We are not getting the accounts of migrants — of their treatment, of what they are experiencing,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And so when these women tell me that they were put into a cell and that their sink was not working, and we tested the sink ourselves and the sink was not working, and they were told to drink out of a toilet bowl, I believe them.”

She continued: “I believe these women. I believe the canker sores that I saw in their mouths because they were only allowed to be fed un-nutritious food. I believe them when they said they were sleeping on concrete floors for two months. I believe them.”

Following her testimony, Ocasio-Cortez was mocked by conservatives on social media for asking to be formally sworn in at the hearing, a procedure committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) noted was not necessary. The congresswoman pushed back against the criticism on Twitter.

“GOP has alleged that I am lying about the accounts of migrant women at the border, particularly about the fact that they were were told to drink out of a toilet bowl,” she wrote online. “Committee staff conferred with me ahead of time about formally requesting to be sworn in.”

Republican lawmakers representing border states disputed negative depictions of the detention facilities — including Ocasio-Cortez’s toilet bowl allegation — and chastised their Democratic colleagues for not heeding earlier GOP warnings of a crisis-level surge in Central American migrants entering the country through Mexico.

But Tlaib insisted that the real crisis at the border is “one of morality,” and characterized the administration’s immigration agenda as governed by “a dangerous ideology” that remains “dead-set on sending a hate-filled message that those seeking refuge are not welcome in America … and that the rule of law, human rights will not be protected” in the U.S.

“I’ve been so deeply haunted by the unforgettable image of a four-year-old boy coming up to me through a glass door of a cell he was in with a number of other children [to] ask me in Spanish where his papá was,” she said.

Tlaib shared the story of a father from Brazil detained at the border patrol station in Clint, Texas, “who held onto his son with tears in his eyes as he told me in English he just wants his son to be an American boy.” She also testified about a grandmother “who had a red ribbon on her wrist with the name of the medication she needs, who said she had been in detention for 40 days and she hadn’t seen her grandson, who was mentally impaired.”

Escobar charged that the administration “has exhibited an incompetence and cruelty that has created a human rights crisis,” and spoke of conditions at the border patrol stations “that dehumanize migrants — stripping them of their dignity, sending good agents into states of despondency, giving cover to bad agents who abuse their authority.”

“I cannot unsee what I’ve seen,” Pressley told members of the committee. “I cannot unfeel what I experienced. I refuse to. Although, admittedly, it robs me of sleep and peace of mind. But that pales in comparison to the pain felt by families that have been robbed of their liberty, their legal rights and their dignity. And some, even the lives of their babies.”

Congress earlier this month approved a bipartisan emergency funding bill directing $4.6 billion to the border. But Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) voted against the supplemental border spending package, citing their support for a much tougher version of the measure that had previously cleared the House and included restrictions meant to protect migrant children.

Political fallout from the four lawmakers’ break with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has continued through this week, opening a public rift between the high-profile freshmen and Democratic leadership.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine