Seeing huge numbers of young illegal immigrant children piled into an overcrowded U.S. Border Patrol detention center in Texas on Wednesday left Rep. Blake Farenthold angered that "these children are being used as pawns by the amnesty-or-nothing folks."
"This is reprehensible," the two-term Republican told Newsmax in an interview. "This is a crisis that needs to be dealt with.
"It's heartbreaking seeing these children piled on top of each other in detention cells. If you talk to these immigration officers, they'll tell you — one on one — that no matter how hard they work, our policies just encourage more people to come in. It's frustrating for them."
Farenthold toured the Border Patrol center in McAllen, which sits right on the border with Mexico, with other members of the House Judiciary Committee. Agents have arrested thousands of illegals coming across the Rio Grande River there in the last year — and in recent months have apprehended even thousands more children traveling alone.
are processed at the McAllen station and then turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Border patrol falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.
Farenthold will also attend a field hearing on the issue on Thursday in McAllen being held by the House Homeland Security Committee. Panel members also toured the detention center on Wednesday.
He told Newsmax that Border Patrol officials said about 1,200 illegals were being held at the center — half as many four days ago. The center's maximum capacity is 400.
"It was not as crowded as it had been, but it was just teeming," Farenthold said. "They were grouped by ages and genders in relatively small cells."
In one cell, he saw more than 20 children — sitting and sleeping on concrete floors — all sharing one toilet. The cell was about the size of an average bedroom.
"This is the United States of America. How do we keep people, especially children, in facilities like this?" the congressman asked. "There is such a flood of folks coming across the border now, children and families, that it's just overwhelmed the system."
Farenthold said committee members did not talk directly with the illegals, but some got Border Patrol agents to act as translators. "I know enough Spanish to know what a 6-year-old is saying.
"The stories are all the same: They have a family member in the U.S., and they're coming up here to make a better life for themselves."
He said a grandmother from Central America was caught with three young grandchildren, all who appeared to be between 4 and 8 years old. She had paid a cartel — or "coyotes," as they are known by authorities — $5,000 to smuggle them through Mexico to the U.S. border.
"When got there, they demanded more money," Farenthold told Newsmax. "She just wrote off the $5,000 and got through Mexico on their own. I wasn't clear how she got across the border without a coyote.
"She was a very strong-willed woman who didn't let herself get shaken down by the cartels."
While appalled by what he saw, Farenthold said it did not make him more committed to comprehensive immigration reform.
"It makes me angry that the Obama administration has let it get to this point. These folks are coming over here because the word on the street in Central America is that if you're a family with a child, or you're an unaccompanied child, you're basically going to get to stay indefinitely."
He disputed news reports
saying that he supported a pathway to citizenship for illegals.
"We can do a pathway to legalization only if we secure the borders first," Farenthold said. "We're not going to get anywhere.
"The American people are upset at the broken promise of the Reagan era that if we granted amnesty, we'd secure the borders. Obviously, that didn't happen, so we've got to get the American people's trust back."
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that granted amnesty to 3 million illegals that included provisions to tighten border security that have never been realized.
"I'm not going to support a pathway until we get the border secure," Farenthold said.
© 2016 Newsmax. All rights reserved.