WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused US border agents of conducting a programme of "psychological warfare" against detained migrants who were told to drink water from toilets if they were thirsty.
The New York Democrat's comments on Twitter came amid a report on Monday (July 1) that border agents used a secret Facebook group to share lewd posts about Ocasio-Cortez and at least one other Democratic lawmaker as well as racist comments about migrants.
"Just left the 1st CBP facility. I see why CBP officers were being so physically & sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, referring to US Customs and Border Protection.
California Representative Judy Chu also said on Twitter that migrants were told to drink from the toilet if they wanted water.
Pennsylvania Representative Madeleine Dean in a tweet called conditions "far worse than we ever could have imagined."
President Donald Trump, asked by reporters at the White House about the report on Border Patrol agents' Facebook group, said: "I don't know what they are saying about members of Congress, but I know the Border Patrol is not happy with the Democrats in Congress."
"The Border Patrol, they are patriots, they are great people, they love our country," Trump said.
The lawmakers were taking part in a delegation organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to El Paso and Clint, Texas, to investigate facilities used to detain undocumented immigrants.
Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter she "forced" herself into a cell to speak to women, who described "their treatment at the hands of officers as 'psychological warfare' - waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc."
Ocasio-Cortez was confronted by shouting Trump supporters during a televised press conference in Clint.
"No woman should ever be locked up in a pen when they have done no harm to another human being," she said. "They should be given water and basic access to human rights."
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Monday it was opening an investigation into the Facebook group, which was first reported by the news organisation ProPublica. It reported that members of the group shared a post in which a photo-shopped President Donald Trump is shown to force Ocasio-Cortez's head towards his crotch and another illustration suggesting she engaged in oral sex with migrants.
"Today, US Customs and Border Protection was made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees," said Assistant Commissioner Matthew Klein. He said the Department of Homeland Security's inspector is beginning an investigation.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi called the Facebook group "beyond sexist and racist - it is truly abhorrent and shameful, and there is no excuse for this depraved behaviour. The agents found to be responsible for these vile comments should no longer have the privilege of representing the United States of America in uniform."
Congress last week passed a US$4.5 billion emergency border funding bill aimed at improving conditions for migrants at the border. House Democrats were unable to secure all the provisions they wanted to force Homeland Security to improve the conditions in their facilities, amid reports that children had been denied soap, toothpaste and clean diapers.
People held in five CBP detention centres in Texas were served an unhealthy menu including frozen sandwiches, cold burritos and potato chips, according government data reflecting descriptions from a nutritionist and two doctors.
Detainees at a facility in McAllen complained they were served frozen, "slimy" sandwiches that had been partially thawed but not heated, said Toby Elizabeth Gialluca, a lawyer who volunteers for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, who visited the centre in mid-June.