Congress hears testimony on border detention conditions
July 11, 2019
Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee heard testimony about the conditions in detention facilities at the border, including testimony from Yazmin Juárez, whose daughter died after 20 days in detention at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, TX, operated by CoreCivic, a private prison contractor. Some background:
Yazmin Juárez is a young mother of a baby girl who died after falling gravely ill and being neglected by medical staff while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody. Mariee Juarez entered Dilley a healthy, 19-month old baby girl and 20 days later was discharged a gravely ill child with a life-threatening respiratory infection.
Within a week of entering Dilley, Mariee was running a 104-degree fever while suffering from a cough, congestion, diarrhea and vomiting. Yazmin sought medical treatment for Mariee many times as her condition worsened, only to be told to give Mariee ibuprofen, antibiotics, and Vicks Vaporub
The medical staff who discharged her weeks later noted none of these conditions and cleared her for travel without observing Mariee, conducting any kind of examination or taking her vital signs. After being released, Mariee spent six weeks at New Jersey and Philadelphia hospitals where doctors and specialists tried, to no avail, to save Mariee as her lungs collapsed from a respiratory infection.
Yazmin’s testimony detailed treatment at Dilley, as well as three days at a border patrol facility, in the “ice-box.” The full hearing can be viewed below. Yazim’s testimony takes place from minutes 29 to 54 with translation, questions follow. A transcript of her full testimony can be read here. A portion below:
My Mariee had always been a happy, healthy baby. She made the journey from Guatemala without any problems. When we crossed the border and made our claim for asylum, she was the normal, giggly baby she’d always been. We were immediately held in CBP custody for three or four days in a facility known as “la hielera” because it is freezing cold at all times. We were locked in a cage with about 20 other people, including children, and forced to sleep on a concrete floor.
Four days later, we were sent to the ICE detention center in Dilley, Texas. A nurse examined Mariee when we arrived and found her perfectly healthy. At Dilley, we were packed into a room with five other mothers with children, a total of 12 people in our room. I noticed immediately how many sick kids there were – and no effort was made to separate the sick from the healthy. One of the other little boys in our room who was about Mariee’s age had a constant cough, runny nose and was sleepy all the time. His mom tried to bring him to the clinic, but they kept being sent back without getting care. I found out then that the clinic was only open during certain times, so if you were still in line when it was supposed to close, they sent you away without being seen and told you to come back another day.
Within a week at Dilley, it started to happen to Mariee. She got sick – first it was coughing and sneezing. I brought her to the clinic, where I waited in line with many other people in a large room like a gymnasium to get medical care for her. We were able to get in and see a physician’s assistant, who examined Mariee and said she had a respiratory infection. She gave her Tylenol, honey for her cough and told me to follow up in six months.
But the next day, Mariee was worse. She was running a fever over 104 degrees and began having diarrhea and vomiting as well. She wouldn’t eat, and I remember her head felt so hot.
I was terrified so I brought her back to the clinic and waited in line again. This time a different physician assistant told me she had an ear infection and gave her antibiotics, but I know my baby and I knew it was something more serious. I begged them to conduct more exams, but they sent us back to our room and said to come back if Mariee got worse.
A second panel of experts, including human rights advocates followed. Among them, Clara Long from Human Rights Watch submitted testimony, the full transcript of which can be read here. Long was part of a team that inspected border facilities in June. She notes:
Our in-depth interviews with children revealed that the US Border Patrol is holding many children, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, in jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, or regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds. Many were sick. Many, including children as young as 2 or 3, were separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides that provided by unrelated older children also being held in detention. These conditions are consistent with those Human Rights Watch documented in our February 2018 report, “In the Freezer.” In contrast with the conditions as of February 2018, the harms of CBP detention for children are now compounding over weeks instead of days.
Ronald Vitiello, former head of Customs and Border Protection, and current acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also testified as part of the second panel. His testimony emphasized deterrence as a strategy to discourage people from coming.
On Friday, there will be a full committee hearing on conditions at the border.