PORT ANGELES — A U.S. Border Patrol agent stationed in Port Angeles defended the agency Tuesday about the treatment of unaccompanied children coming across the southern border.
Matthew Rainwater returned in May from serving in El Paso at the border between Texas and Mexico, he told Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting participants. Rainwater is the former president of PABA and the present chairman of the Clallam County GOP.
He said agents there are “overwhelmed” by the influx of illegal immigrants including political-asylum seekers — more than a half million between Sept. 1-May 31.
“We were arresting 1,200 to 1,300 people during the rainy season on one shift, at my station, and we would have just as many get away,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater said he will return to the southern border in October.
Of the 593,507 people apprehended, 56,278 were unaccompanied juveniles ranging up to 18 years old, Rainwater said.
Their living conditions while in custody has become the focus of media reports.
PABA President Carol Johnson said she had read one of those reports.
“They’re sleeping on concrete floors, they’re not being fed, given water, they’re not being given soap, that was one of the terms they use,” she said.
“I heard that report,” Rainwater said.
“Obviously, no one is prepared for the crush of people, but we worry more about the children, certainly because they’re less able to deal with things,” Johnson continued.
“What is the solution, and what is happening on the border with those children?
“Kind of everybody’s in a crush on that one.”
Rainwater was an agent at a children’s holding facility at Clint, Texas, which is south of El Paso on the Texas-Mexico border.
A team of lawyers and doctors visited and interviewed children earlier this month. One of the lawyers talked to The New Yorker for a June 22 question-and-answer article, describing squalid conditions (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-DetainedChildren).
A story also was published in the New York Times on Tuesday ( https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/25/us/john-sanders-cbp.html).
Rainwater told the meeting participants that unaccompanied juveniles who cross the border are medically screened when they arrive and have ready access to medical care.
Children often arrive with lice, chicken pox and scabies, he said.
All have access to showers, meals and soap, are fed three meals a day and can call a family member, according to Rainwater.
“The facilities are doing the best they can,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater said in a later interview he had been at the Clint Facility and had not read the article.
“The conditions were the best that they could be with that situation,” Rainwater said. “There were a lot of kids there. Accommodations were made for all of them.”
Detention areas at border crossings typically have capacities of 120 people, he told meeting participants.
There were 593,507 apprehensions on the southern border from Sept. 1-May 31, a 493 percent increase over Sept. 1. 2017-May 31, 2018, he said, comparing the scale of effort to arresting the state of Wyoming.
Eighty percent were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and to a lesser extent countries including Bangladesh, Ecuador and Cuba — not Mexico, Rainwater said.
Rainwater is one of the 28 agents stationed at the Border Patrol’s regional headquarters east of downtown Port Angeles.
They travel to the southern border in contingents of about a half-dozen each on 30-day rotations, Patrol Agent-in-Charge Corey Lindsay told Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles lunch-goers Thursday (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-PatrolRotation).
Agents themselves are being stricken by viruses carried by those coming across the border that “we have never been exposed to,” Rainwater said.
“Border Patrol agents are getting sick,” said Rainwater, who added that he had suffered an allergic reaction that covered him with rashes head to toe.
“Some are calling it the viral syndrome.
“Basically, it looks like a virus, but they don’t know what it is,” said Rainwater, who in his presentation frequently quoted the Washington Examiner, a journalism website that posted a June 16 article about viral syndrome (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ViralSyndrome). It is owned by MediaDC, a subsidiary of Clarity Media Group, which is owned by conservative Philip Anschutz.
As a measure of what the Border Patrol is dealing with, Rainwater quoted a statistic cited by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, who said in a June 10 congressional hearing that 90 percent of political asylum seekers skipped their political-asylum hearings.
That would be a drastic turnaround from 2017, when 89 percent showed up for their hearings, according to the Washington Examiner, which quoted a state Department of Justice report (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-AsylumSeekers).
If someone does not show up for a hearing, they are deported “in absentia,” Rainwater said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].