Friday, July 12, 2019

CONGRESS EXPLORES THE HARSH REALITIES OF MIGRANT DETENTION CENTERS

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on the Trump administration's child separation policy Friday where they called upon first-hand witnesses of the camps to testify about what they saw. The answers were not pretty. Even Republicans who testified said conditions were lackluster, though they blamed Democrats for not recognizing that there was a problem early enough. Below are some of the highlights, or lowlights, of the hearing. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib Break Down Over Migrant Detention Camps 

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib both cried openly during impassioned speeches recalling their visits to detention camps along the southern border of the United States Friday morning. 

Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, who had organized a joint trip to the border facilities, were asked to testify about what they witnessed during Friday’s House hearing. 

Ocasio-Cortez, who voluntarily swore-in for her testimony, told Chairman Elijah Cummings that she met with a group of women while visiting the Clint migrant facility in Southwest Texas. “They were put into a cell and the sink was not working so they were told to drink out of a toilet bowl, I believed them,” she said, partially responding to prior claims by Republicans that migrants did not have to drink out of toilet bowls but instead had drinking water fountains installed into the tops of their toilets. 

“I believed the canker sores I saw in their mouths because they were only allowed to be fed unnutritious food. I believed them when they said they were sleeping on concrete floors for two months,” Ocasio-Cortez continued, beginning to cry. “And what was worse about this was the fact that there were Ametican flags hanging all over these facilities. That children were being separated from their parents in front of an American flag, that women were being called names under an American flag.” 

Michigan Congresswoman Tlaib also visited the camps and had a similarly emotional reaction, at one point having to pause because of her tears. 

“We do have a crisis at our border, it is one of morality,” she said. “We have seen this current strategy unfold, intentionally and cruelley created by the Trump administration who are dead-set on sending a hate-filled message that those seeking refuge are not welcome in our America and that the rule of law, human rights, will not protect them here.” 

Tlaib then addressed Republicans who have been pointing fingers at Democrats for the crisis, saying the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in camps is occurring because of a lack of funding. “I spoke to [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] agents,” she said. “They said stop sending money because it’s not working, another one said ‘I am not trained for this, I am not a social worker and I am not a medical care worker. He said he wanted to be at the border.’ Another agent said the separation policy wasn’t working.” 

Both Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez have referred to migrant detention centers as concentration camps, sparking controversy among Republicans and Democrats alike who believe their phrasing is over-sensationalizing the situation. 

‘Stuck in a Hellhole:' Law Professor Recounts Sobbing and Unwashed Children As Officer 'Bribed' One Kid With Lollipop To Return to 'Cell' 

Children in U.S. migrant detention camps were so dirty and had such a strong stench emanating from them that Elora Mukherjee, the director of Columbia Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic who recently interviewed 70 detained migrant children in Clint, Texas, was unable to sit near them without feeling ill. 

The lawyer testified to Congress about the horrid conditions she saw while inspecting facilities Friday at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform on the Trump administration’s child separation policy. 

Over the course of three days, Mukherjee said she witnessed inadequate bedding, clothing and hygiene tools like soap and toothbrushes, and diapers. 

“Never before have we learned of 700 children being detained in a facility built for 104 or 106 adults,” Mukherjee said in her testimony. “Never before have we met with children detained in [Customs and Border Patrol] custody for a week, much less weeks and nearly a month. Never before have we had to directly intervene to get critically ill babies admitted to the hospital.” 

She said there were several occasions where her team had to intervene to get children fed because they were too scared to ask guards for food. Many children feared that their parents were dead or never returning. 

Some children, she said, were too traumatized to even speak. One six-year-old girl couldn’t even recite her name, she only repeated “I’m scared” over and over again. Another young boy sobbed for an hour straight. 

“I spent nearly an hour with this child, first trying to interview him and then just letting him sit on my lap while I rubbed his back,” she said. “He wept almost inconsolably for most of the time.” Later, she told Congress, a guard came and attempted to bribe him with a lollipop so that he would return to his cell. 

Mukherjee was part of a 10-person team sent to inspect conditions at the holding centers to make sure they complied with court-ordered standards that the camps be “safe and sanitary.” The group was allowed to speak to detained children but they were denied free access or even tours of the facility. 

“The extraordinary trauma inflicted on separated children is not an incidental byproduct of the administration’s family separation policy—it is the very point,” she said in her testimony. “The federal government seeks to inflict so much distress on children seeking asylum that other families would be deterred from trying to seek refuge in this country.” 

More: 

Nicole Goodkind is a political reporter at Newsweek. You can reach her on Twitter @NicoleGoodkind or by email, N.Goodkind@newsweek.com.

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