The worst thing about touring immigrant detention facilities at the border was seeing cruelty occur under the American flags hung everywhere, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Friday while testifying on family separations and the treatment of migrants.
“Children are being separated from their families in front of an American flag,” the congresswoman told the House Oversight Committee as she fought back tears. “We cannot allow for this.”
Ocasio-Cortez, a fierce critic of the Trump administration, was among four Democratic members of Congress to testify before fellow lawmakers about what they saw during visits to the border. They described seeing migrants covered in filth from an inability to shower or change, with canker sores from unhealthy food, and only thin blankets for sleeping on concrete. They called on Congress to act as migrants report overcrowded facilities and little access to care or medication.
The Trump administration has blamed the number of undocumented immigrants arriving at the border ― which dipped last month but hit record numbers earlier this year ― on loose immigration laws, demanding more funding, a border wall and legal changes to restrict access to asylum.
But the Democrats argued the administration has exacerbated the crisis through its policies, including the family separations it carried out last year.
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents a district on the border with Mexico, also testified at the hearing. “This is not a matter of resources, but a matter of will,” she said. “We have the power to change this. Do we have the will?”
She called her city, El Paso, “a modern day Ellis Island.” Volunteers there have helped migrants for years. Over the last year, they have ramped up efforts to feed, shelter and care for the thousands of migrant families released weekly by the Department of Homeland Security.
“My community, with a fraction of the resources available to the federal government, has responded more strategically, thoughtfully and compassionately than the federal government has,” Escobar said.
During testimony from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), she displayed a drawing by a detained child showing people being held in a cell and asked the audience not to look away. Wiping away tears, Tlaib went on to tell the stories of the people she met at various border facilities, including one about a pregnant woman who has since been released.
She also noted that 100 Border Patrol agents died by suicide from 2007 to 2018. Family separations were hard on agents as well as migrants, she said. “The dehumanization is not only with those families, but it’s also with the agents that we’ve told to do this to these families,” Tlaib said.
Describing the Trump administration’s current strategy as cruel and intentional, she said it’s “dead set on sending a hate-filled message, that those seeking refuge are not welcome in America. In our America.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said 100 Border Patrol agents had died by suicide between 2017 and 2018. The time period was 2007 to 2018.