Hearings on U.S. migrant detentions draw tears

Video Credit: Reuters - Politics - Duration: 02:56s - Published
Hearings on U.S. migrant detentions draw tears

Hearings on U.S. migrant detentions draw tears

The House of Representatives this week is hearing testimony from parents, lawyers, and officials about detention centers holding Central American asylum seekers that have drawn outrage for deplorable conditions and dangerous overcrowding.

Zachary Goelman reports.


Tearful testimony visibly shook U.S. lawmakers this week as Congress held hearings delving into conditions at American detention centers for asylum-seekers.

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish dubbed into English) YAZMIN JUAREZ, ASYLUM SEEKER, SAYING: "ICE detention centers are terrible, inadequate places to lock children up, as if they were animals." On Wednesday, Guatemalan asylum-seeker Yazmin Juarez told about how her 19-month-old daughter Mariee fell ill in one such center and ran a fever during their 20-day stay in custody.

When they were released, Juarez took her daughter to an emergency room, where she was placed in intensive care and died six weeks later, in May.

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish dubbed into English) YAZMIN JUAREZ, ASYLUM SEEKER, SAYING: "When I left the hospital that day, all I had with me was a piece of paper with Mariee's handprints in pink paint that the staff had created for me.

It was the only thing that I had left.

Just her handprints." Mariee is one of seven children who have died in the past year while in U.S. custody or shortly after their release.

That comes after almost a decade with no reported deaths of kids in immigration detention.

And the spike in fatalities coincides with a surge of Central American families seeking asylum at the southern border.

U.S. border facilities, designed to hold adults, have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and the specific needs of children.

The White House blamed Mexico for failing to stop the migrants from reaching the U.S. border, and demanded funding for a border wall.

Republican lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing cited examples of border agents rescuing children from human traffickers, and racing to resuscitate infants pulled from the Rio Grande.

The hearings continue Friday, with testimony from attorney Elora Mukherjee, who spent a week in June visiting a detention center for migrant children in Texas.

She told Reuters what she saw was deplorable.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ELORA MUKHERJEE, PROFESSOR OF LAW AND DIRECTOR OF THE IMMIGRANTS' RIGHTS CLINIC AT COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL, SAYING: "I've been doing work with immigrant children and families in detention for more than 12 years now and I have never seen conditions as degrading and inhumane as what we saw in Clint.

The children there were hungry, dirty, sick, scared and all of them who I interviewed had been detained for longer than the 72 hour limit that the law requires." Mukherjee will be joined by the Department of Homeland's Security's acting inspector general, who's office put out a report describing horrific conditions for adults and children at immigration facilities.

Scrambling for a solution to the crisis, Congress in June approved a $4.5 billion emergency funding bill, including almost $3 billion to provide shelter and care for unaccompanied children.

This week U.S. border officials said they'd dramatically cut the number of children in custody, from more than 2,500 in May to about 200.

The agency is turning children over to facilities run or funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, such as a tent camp that just opened in Carrizo Spring, Texas.

Activists are planning nationwide protests for Friday, insisting families belong together and demanding the government close the camps.

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