Guatemalan mother talks about harrowing conditions at border detention facilities

WASHINGTON — In powerful testimony before the House Oversight Committee that brought Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to tears, Yazmin Juárez described the conditions on the U.S. border with Mexico that led to the death of her 19-month-old daughter Mariee in May 2018.

A native of Guatemala, the 21-year-old Juárez was detained by Customs and Border Protection agents in March 2018 as she sought asylum in the United States. Juárez has alleged that Mariee became sick during that detention. The little girl died of a respiratory infection several weeks later in New Jersey, where Juárez traveled after being released from custody. Her mother has since filed suit.

“The trip was dangerous,” Juárez said in the opening of her testimony. “But I was more afraid of what might have happened to us if we stayed.” She said her hopes for “a better, safer life” in the United States were dashed as she watched her “baby girl die painfully and slowly”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens to Yazmin Juárez testify. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens to Yazmin Juárez testify. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The hearing was titled “Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border,” a reflection of what has been described as dire conditions afflicting the 50,000 migrants currently in detention for attempting to enter the United States. President Trump and his supporters blame Democrats for the influx and say that his policies are not markedly different than those of President Obama.

Legislators sat soberly as Juárez spoke, a Spanish-to-English translator at her side. A critic of President Trump’s immigration policy, Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., could be seen dabbing at her eyes with a napkin. Ocasio-Cortez later said that the Trump administration was fostering a “culture of cruelty” at the border.

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