Congress hears testimony on 'Kids in cages' at the border

shutterstock 657896977 Closeup of border fence between US and Mexico in Nogales, Arizona. Via Shutterstock.

Members of Congress heard testimony on Wednesday about harsh conditions in migrant detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border, including from a bereaved migrant mother whose infant child became sick in detention and eventually died.

"I am here because the world should know what is happening to so many children inside ICE detention," Yazmin Juarez, a 19 year-old migrant from Guatemala, said in her testimony through a translator before members of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on July 10.

"My beautiful girl is gone, but I hope her story will spur this country's government to act so that more children do not die because of neglect and mistreatment," she said at the hearing on "Kids in Cages" at migrant detention facilities. 

The number of migrants journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border climbed sharply in recent months. A July 2 report by the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that the number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley Sector alone rose by 124 % in the 2019 fiscal year against the same eight-month period the previous year. 

The IG report warned of "dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley" and urged DHS to "take immediate steps" to address the problem.

Juarez, one of several witnesses who testified on Wednesday before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee, told members how the poor conditions at an ICE facility in Dilley, Texas led to her daughter Maria's preventable death.

The facility was cramped with sick migrants in close quarters, Juarez said. Her daughter Maria soon developed a fever and a cough, which intensified to include diarrhea and vomiting, but she was not able to receive the care she needed. Juarez finally finally secured a doctor's appointment for Maria only to learn she was being transferred from the facility to New Jersey, to be with her mother. 

In New Jersey, Juarez took Maria to a hospital where she was admitted to the ICU with a viral lung infection. Over the next six weeks, Maria suffered "horrible pain." before she died on May 10, the hospital's care having come "too late" for her. 

"It is very hard, you have no idea how hard it is, to move forward without my little girl. It's like they tore out a piece of my heart, like they tore out my soul," said Juarez through tears on Wednesday.

"I am here today to put an end to this, and that we not allow any more children to suffer and die in this way," she said.

Congressmen from both parties sparred over the issue at Wednesday's hearing. Subcommittee chair Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) denounced the conditions at detention centers and said "there is no excuse" for the administration's lack of preparedness for the increase in migrants. 

Meanwhile, subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said he had called for months for more humanitarian funding of the crisis at the border, but was ignored by Democrats until the House passed a $4.6 billion emergency humanitarian funding bill at the end of June.

"Ms. Juarez, on behalf of this committee, all the members here, the entire House of Representatives, there are no words that we can possibly share with you about the loss of your little girl," Roy told Juarez. "I am the father of a son and a daughter; I cannot possibly imagine what you have gone through."

U.S. bishops have also been speaking out against the conditions at the border and the situation for migrants. The recent viral photo of a dead father and daughter in the Rio Grande River, who drowned attempting to cross the border, "cries to heaven for justice," the U.S. bishops' conference stated.

On Wednesday, the bishops of Connecticut issued a joint letter calling for a "complete overhaul" of U.S. immigration laws, pointing to Border Patrol statistics showing that 357 immigrants on average have died each year over the last 20 years in the Southwest border sectors.

"As one nation under God, not only founded by immigrants, but made what it is in large part by immigrants, the United States can and must do better," the bishops wrote. 

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, stated on June 27 before he crossed the border into the U.S. from Mexico over the Lerdo International Bridge: "A government and society which view fleeing children and families as threats; a government which treats children in U.S. custody worse than animals; a government and society who turn their backs on pregnant mothers, babies and families and make them wait in Ciudad Juarez without a thought to the crushing consequences on this challenged city." 

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"This government and this society are not well. We suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart."

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