Pence’s Border Trip Illustrates Conflicting Messages About Detained Migrants

Although many people were appalled by footage of adult migrants in conditions that Mr. Connolly said could be mistaken for “a detention center on the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen,” Trump administration officials might not have minded, according to Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates tough restrictions on immigration.

The administration “doesn’t want the detention experience to be Club Med,” Mr. Stein said. One way to deter migrants from seeking to enter the United States is to “make the experience unpleasant,” he said.

“By the same token,” he added, “you don’t want to create facilities that create a backlash.”

That balance has proved difficult to strike. Recent reports of children suffering in detention, including one released last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog, has produced a fierce blowback from Democrats and activists and increased pressure on administration officials to demonstrate empathy for their plight.

Upon his return to Washington, Mr. Pence went after CNN on Twitter, calling the network “so dishonest” for repeatedly airing footage of the detained men but not featuring the children, who were housed in a white tent and provided with mats and silver Mylar blankets. On Monday afternoon, the network was airing footage from both facilities.

Mr. Pence wrote that the adult men were in a temporary holding area in McAllen, Tex., because, he said, Democrats in Congress have not acted to restrict immigration laws and policies that will limit a recent surge of migration into the United States.

Democrats insist that the Trump administration is following a policy of malign neglect in border facilities to create the sort of horrendous conditions, at least for adults, that Mr. Pence witnessed on Friday.

“The cruelty we are witnessing today is not an unintended consequence or side effect. It is the goal,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter.