Sen. Joni Ernst: Overcrowded detention camps are 'just like Thanksgiving dinner'


Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) compared the humanitarian crisis at the border to having too many people show up for a holiday dinner.

Federal investigators issued dire warnings about overcrowded detention facilities at the border, but Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) compared the situation to having too many people over for a holiday dinner.

After returning Monday from her visit to border areas in Texas, Ernst said, "it's just like Thanksgiving dinner," according to the Iowa Starting Line. "You make Thanksgiving dinner for your family, maybe 10 people, but a thousand show up at your door expecting Thanksgiving dinner. What do you do? You've only got two legs, come on."

Ernst's attempt at a lighthearted analogy glosses over serious issues impacting border facilities. One senior manager at a border facility told federal inspectors that the conditions were "a ticking time bomb" and a serious health-and-safety risk for detainees and border patrol agents.

When Vice President Mike Pence visited a border facility in mid-July, White House pool reporters described the conditions as "sweltering hot," adding that the "stench was horrendous." Men in cages said they were hungry and unable to brush their teeth, and some had been locked up for more than 40 days.

Children in border facilities are drawing pictures of themselves in cages, and one doctor compared the conditions to "torture facilities."

Ernst had a very different reaction during her visit.

"I saw firsthand what is going on there, and what I want to get out first and foremost is that our border patrol agents are doing a tremendous job," she said. She did say the situation was a "crisis," but downplayed the conditions faced by detainees.

"I felt completely safe and at ease," Ernst said, even while she deigned to mingle with the migrant detainees. "Even walking in and around the migrants, I felt comfortable."

At the same time she decried "using these migrants as pawns," Ernst used migrants as pawns to take political jabs, falsely claiming "Democrats refused to step up and help us fund the items necessary for these areas." A bill to provide $4.6 billion in emergency funding passed the Senate in June by a 84-8 bipartisan majority and was later passed by the House.

After Ernst made her comments, the House of Representatives passed a bill to ensure adequate health, safety, and hygiene safeguards are in place at border facilities. While Democrats unanimously supported the measure, 194 of Ernst's Republican colleagues opposed the measure.

The situation at the border is so outrageous that Ernst's colleague, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), "choked back tears" when he spoke with migrant detainees.

"They are all fleeing violence. Seeking refuge. This is not how we should be treating them," Schatz said after his visit. "I broke down at the end of the day," he added.

Meanwhile, Ernst compared the situation to not having enough mashed potatoes for unexpected guests at dinner.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.