WASHINGTON (CN) – Yazmin Juarez’s 19-month-old daughter died after getting sick following her stay at an unsanitary immigration detention center in Texas. She told lawmakers her story Wednesday to shed light on the human toll behind the Trump administration’s immigration policy, leaving few dry eyes in the room.
Yazmin and her daughter, Mariee, made the trek from Guatemala to the United States last year. She was fleeing an abusive domestic situation, a scenario that she could not even describe, for her own protection, during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on inhumane treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I was scared. But I made the journey because I feared for her life,” Juarez said in Spanish before a translator relayed the message to a silent group of lawmakers. “I was more scared of what would happen if we stayed. I wanted a new life for my family. Instead I watched my baby girl die slowly and painfully.”
Though sharing her experience brought tears to her eyes and often caused her voice to crack, Juarez steadfastly described under oath the horrors she witnessed while she was held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas.
There was no effort to separate the sick from the healthy there, she said. Pregnant women and children were forced to sleep on hard concrete with rough “grey things.” Those things were blankets but Juarez said she would not consider them a blanket by any standard.
Mariee was healthy for the arduous trip to the U.S. and did not become ill until after their 20-day ICE detention. By day 10, the girl had lost 8% of her body weight. She was vomiting constantly, including in front of doctors who were supposed to care for her.
Given only Pedialyte and Vicks VapoRub, Mariee’s condition worsened fast. She wasn’t eating or sleeping. She was weak.
“I didn’t learn until after she died, you are not supposed to give children under 2 Vicks because it can cause respiratory problems,” Juarez testified.
Agents would turn Juarez away as she asked for a specialist, at one point even offering to be handcuffed while they took her and her daughter for care. When they finally got out of the facility, they went to an emergency room where it was discovered that Mariee had a viral lung infection.
It was six weeks of “poking and prodding,” Juarez said, as doctors at a children’s hospital fought to bring Mariee back from the edge of death.
“My little girl suffered horrible pain. I couldn’t even hold her to console her. As a mother, I wish I could have taken her place,” Juarez said in tears.
Lawmakers in the House are holding multiple hearings this week to review a steadily increasing flow of allegations that ICE and Customs and Border Protection facilities are overflowing not just with immigrants, but with human and civil rights abuses.
Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, expressed his frustration with those conditions Wednesday.
“The human rights catastrophes at the border are not improving the refugee crisis but are worsening it. People flee because of gang violence, government dysfunction, police corruption, religious persecution, rape, gender violence, droughts and floods and this has driven up the number of families headed to our border,” Raskin said.
But instead of mitigating the trauma asylum-seekers are running from, the congressman said the Trump administration has doubled down.
“The policy is designed to make conditions so miserable that refugees will stop coming. But it’s not working because the situation [in Central America’s Northern Triangle] is so severe,” Raskin added.
Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Chip Roy of Texas, expressed sadness for the loss of Juarez’s daughter but took umbrage with the majority’s title for the hearing – “Kids in Cages.”
“What we say in the hyperbole we use matters. I have never seen a kid in a cage, as it had been indicated,” Roy said.
He said the hearing title made a mockery of the agents working at the border who actually help people, noting that CBP rescued 3,000 immigrants this year alone, including 14 that were stuck in a horse container in sweltering heat.
The resolution to the border crisis is more funding for better resources and more staff, Roy argued.
President Donald Trump signed off on a $4.6 billion aid package on July 1 after reports of inhumane conditions at facilities along the border grew. Of that package, much of the money will go toward revamping the detention centers but at least $2.9 billion is flagged specifically for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Though the bill passed the House in a 305-102 vote, some Democrats including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley voted against the measure, saying they feared more money would only be used to detain more immigrants, separate more families and fund the construction of a wall at the southern border.
On Wednesday, those two lawmakers held back tears as Juarez spoke of her child and those children belonging to the hundreds of other immigrants that were detained with her.
“You did nothing wrong. You did everything you could to help your child. You sacrificed everything you knew for the safety of your baby girl…. The U.S. government is responsible, this administration is responsible for acting out human rights abuses on U.S. soil. I’m sorry we have failed you,” Pressley said.
Ocasio-Cortez asked Juarez if she could give specific details about her time in detention, like whether agents treated her fairly.
Juarez recounted a day she had a phone interview with immigration officials. They asked why she came to America.
“I came for my child’s future,” she tried to say. But the agents interrupted her repeatedly.
Instead of letting her talk, they berated her, Juarez said.
“They said, ‘This country is for Americans. Trump is my president and we can take your little girl away from you and lock you in jail.’ I had no words to respond. I would call this mistreatment,” she said.
During the second half of Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans raised concerns about children who are falsely claimed by adults trying to gain entry to the U.S.
Ronald Vitiello, former acting director of ICE, said numerous people who are not blood-related often do this, forcing the agency to separate them.
But Clara Long, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, refuted that claim.
“There is no law that requires the U.S. to separate non-parent families. In fact, this is part of the administration’s policy to punish children and families from coming to the United States,” Long said. “There are a variety of options that could be employed first, like providing a screening to a qualified professional.”
Michael Breen, an Army veteran and CEO of Human Rights First, also pushed back against the argument by many Republicans that lax immigration policies have expanded the aiding and abetting of terrorism.
During a visit to the border, he met with a mother of an 8-year-old child who used a legal port of entry.
“She was told to wait and given a number. Her number is 17,000-plus. Now she’s been dropped off in Juarez, Mexico, where gangs and drug cartels have access to her and her family,” Breen said. “So, is she better off there or do you think we are aiding and abetting cartels now that they can actively prey on her?”