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a mother whose toddler died weeks after they were released from ICE custody in 2018

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Congress Pence visits calls detention

Vice President Mike Pence visits border detention facilities.

Pence: Border facility conditions are unacceptable

Copyright 2019 CNN

Vice President Mike Pence visits border detention facilities.

MCALLEN, Texas - Vice President Mike Pence saw the overcrowded conditions facing migrant adults and children in Customs and Border Protection custody firsthand Friday, becoming the highest-ranking member of the Trump administration to visit two federal detention centers in Texas ahead of controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids targeting undocumented immigrants this weekend.

"To be honest with you, I was not surprised by what we saw," Pence told reporters Friday, citing the humanitarian crisis and congestion. "This crisis is real, the time for action is now."

Joined by a group of reporters, Senate Republicans and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Pence visited two facilities in the Rio Grande Valley: the Donna Processing Facility, temporarily housing families, and the McAllen Border Patrol Station, housing single adults who have been found crossing into the United States illegally.

In Donna, Pence saw oversized, air-conditioned facilities, with children and their parents lying on cots, watching animated movies and eating snacks.

In McAllen, it was a much different scene: Pence toured a swelteringly hot room called a sally port with hundreds of men, a strong smell of sweat and overcrowding so extreme there was no room for cots, the migrants left to sleep on concrete beneath mylar blankets.

"The Vice President's office specifically instructed CBP to not clean up or sanitize the facility beyond what is routine so the American people could see how serious the crisis at our border is (overcrowding, lack of resources, beds)," an administration official said in an email, noting that there were Secret Service concerns over Pence entering the sally port, but the Vice President's office pushed for press access.

'Time for Congress to act'

Asked by CNN whether the conditions for the detained single adult immigrants were acceptable, Pence said no.

"No, it's not. That's the reason why we demanded that Congress provide $4.6 billion in additional support to Customs and Border Protection," the vice president said in an interview following both tours and a roundtable with Border Patrol officials. "The McAllen station, where our cells are overflowing ... ought to be a very clear message to every American that the time for action is now and the time for Congress to act to end the flow of families that are coming north from Central America to our border is now."

Pence's visit comes ahead of Sunday's scheduled ICE raids targeting migrant families with court-ordered removals that had previously been called off by President Donald Trump. The upcoming ICE operation is expected to target approximately 2,000 people and take place over several days in major cities across the nation.

Advocacy groups have been hosting "Know Your Rights" trainings and circulating fliers and social medial posts with guidelines about what they say immigrants should do if ICE agents show up at their door.

Pence would not answer four repeated questions from CNN on whether the Sunday ICE raids will separate families.

"The upcoming efforts are going to focus exclusively on individuals who have been fully adjudicated and ordered by a judge to be deported," he said.

Pence said ICE will prioritize immigrants with deportation orders who have also committed crimes in the US, though he was vague on whether those who had not committed crimes could be targeted as well.

"These will be individuals who are facing a deportation order, and the priority that Homeland Security and ICE will be placing will be on those individuals that have also committed crimes in this country, and represent a threat to our communities," he said.

In McAllen, Pence did not engage directly with any of the men, but he did speak with some of the children and mothers in Donna, asking them if they were well cared for. They all nodded yes. Children told him their journey to the United States by foot took two and three months. In Donna, there were rooms filled with health supplies, snacks and changes of clothes for the migrants, many of whom had arrived at the facility with shoes and pants crusted in mud from the journey.

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