- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A woman who came to the U.S. as part of the surge of illegal immigrant families, and then watched her daughter die after being released from ICE custody, told Congress on Wednesday to do whatever it can to stop more deaths.

Yazmin Juarez said she was held in a “cage,” was derisively called an “immigrant,” had an immigration officer tell her “Trump is my president” and was threatened with having her daughter taken away.

She said Mariee, her daughter, was healthy when they made the journey from Guatemala but ended up in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility with other illegal immigrants, including one little boy with a cough and runny nose. Soon Mariee was sick, ran a fever of 104 degrees and was vomiting.

During 20 days in ICE custody, Mariee lost significant weight, Ms. Jaurez said. Repeated trips to the clinic eventually earned a prescription for Tylenol and Vicks VapoRub.

ICE released the mother and child and flew them from Texas to New Jersey to meet up with Ms. Juarez’s mother, but Mariee’s health worsened on the flight. They went to an emergency room, where doctors diagnosed a viral lung infection. Six weeks later, the girl died.

“I watched my baby girl die slowly and painfully just a few months before her second birthday,” Ms. Jaurez told Congress, speaking through an interpreter. “The world should know what is happening to so many children inside of ICE detention.”

Ms. Juarez is suing the Arizona city that hosts the ICE facility where she was held and is demanding a reported $60 million.

In the midst of that, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee had Ms. Juarez appear as the star witness for the first of a series of hearings this month intended to highlight the border crisis and the conditions for illegal immigrants.

“The American people are up in arms,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who chaired the hearing. She said the reports Democrats and watchdog groups have brought back from the border “shame us as a society.”

The hearing was titled “Kids in Cages” and was advertised with a photo of a chain-link fence cell at a border holding facility.

Republicans pointed out that the photo was from 2014 — during the Obama administration — underscoring how tricky and intractable the border problems have become as the surge of children and families has changed the face of illegal immigration.

The latest numbers suggest an improvement last month.

The Border Patrol reported apprehending 94,897 illegal immigrants in June, which was down 29% compared with the May numbers. Of the apprehensions, nearly 70% were either families or unaccompanied juveniles.

Another 9,447 migrants showed up at border crossings without permission to enter — also a drop from May. Nearly half of those were families or children.

A top border official said part of the drop could be seasonal, with a decline in unauthorized crossings during the heat of summer. But he said some of the drop is likely a result of better enforcement in Mexico, thanks to a deal that country struck with the U.S. last month.

The official, who briefed reporters but whom his agency declined to allow to be identified, gave an example of Mexico’s assistance. He said one group of 200 migrants approached the border near Del Rio, Texas, a couple of weeks ago. Mexican officials apprehended most of them but left 60, who made it into the U.S.

Yet the official said the rate of apprehensions, at nearly 95,000, is still the highest June level since 2000.

“This is still a crisis,” the official said.

A $4.6 billion emergency spending bill Congress approved last month has helped. The Health and Human Services Department now has more space to accommodate unaccompanied children, meaning they can be transferred out of border custody.

The number of children at border holding centers dropped from more than 2,000 in early June to just 200 as of Wednesday, and few of those had exceeded the 72-hour maximum transfer time, according to the border official briefing reporters.

But unless something can be done to change the flow of people leaving their homes to try to come to the U.S., the crisis will continue, Ronald D. Vitiello, a former top official at the Border Patrol and ICE, told Congress.

He said the border facilities were built for processing adult migrants, usually in 12 hours or less. The children and families, who are more difficult to process and release because they cannot be immediately returned to Mexico, end up in custody for days. That means officials have had to bring in temporary showers and stock food and sanitary supplies.

It also has meant massive overcrowding.

Democrats at the hearing said blame falls on President Trump and suggested some of the horror stories are indicative of intentional behavior.

“What is being pointed to here is a culture of cruelty,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, after hearing Ms. Juarez’s claims that she felt insulted and had Mr. Trump’s name thrown at her.

Immigrant rights activists who also testified agreed.

“Children are going hungry,” said Hope M. Frye, executive director of Project Lifeline, who conducted a watchdog visit last month.

She said pureed food for infants less than 1 year old “is completely missing” and when there are bottles for formula, there is no way to wash the bottles, so they are contaminated. Migrants complained that the water tasted like dirt, so they didn’t drink. She also said hygiene items such as soap were nowhere to be found, countering statements by Homeland Security officials.

“The children we saw were filthy, wearing the same wet and mud-caked clothes in which they traveled. Many were covered in mucus and vomit. Babies had soiled diapers. The smell of the children was foul,” she said.

She said she saw children wracked with flu but who were refused medical care.

Two days after her first visit, Ms. Frye said, she became sick with a 102.5-degree fever, vomiting, diarrhea and the worst headache of her life.

“I had caught it from the children,” she said.

She went to an emergency room and was ordered admitted to the hospital with flu. She spent more than two days there, was given IV fluids and was isolated.

She contrasted that with the children she said were refused care for the same illness.

“It’s child abuse, pure and simple,” she told lawmakers.

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