Congressional Democrats visiting a border facility where an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy was held before his death under federal immigration custody said that the Trump administration “still has a long way to go in making sure that migrants are treated humanely,” pledging that the House of Representatives, now under Democratic control, will continue its investigation into the events that led to the boy’s horrific death.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Joaquín Castro of Texas and Congress member Xotchil Torres Small of New Mexico led the delegation, which included Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler of New York, to New Mexico in their investigation into Felipe Gómez Alonzo’s death under Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody on Christmas Eve. The members came with specific questions, but saw few of them answered by border officials.
“One thing that’s very clear: we were unable to get answers to his specific case,” said Congress member Nanette Barragán of California. “What we heard today instead were generalities of changes that are being made since his death. First, it’s unfortunate, and really unacceptable, that it took two deaths for Homeland Security and the secretary to step up to put into place new procedures on the medical front.”
Following outrage over the deaths of Felipe and Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin’s deaths last month, CBP said “it would begin conducting ‘secondary medical checks’ on all children in custody, with particular attention to children under 10,” NBC News reported.
But during the press conference, Barragán said that “one of the most surprising” things she heard was border officials telling her that medical checks were better at ports of entry than at their own facilities. These are the same ports of entry where asylum seekers are being illegally blocked, which pushes them, in desperation, to cross at more dangerous regions. This practice can only lead to more Jakelins and Felipes.
Members visiting the border also said that they “heard wildly different accounts” about the treatment of detained people, including “medical conditions and availability of ‘proper food’” according to NBC News. During a separate live stream, Barragán said migrants are fed things like dehydrated ramen noodles and frozen burritos, “nothing really nutritious.” It’s also the conditions in these kind of facilities—nicknamed hieleras, or iceboxes for the freezing cold temperatures—that pose a danger to kids in particular.
”Freezing temperatures, no beds, lights left on, no showers, not enough toilets or toilet paper, filthy conditions, horrible smell, inedible food and not enough clean water to drink, and run by insulting and abusive agents,” immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said last month. “Front line workers report that most of those released from these CBP facilities are dazed, sick and hungry.”
“’If you go into CBP processing centers or detention centers, no American would be proud of the way that we are treating’ migrants coming to U.S. southern border,” Castro said. “We still have a lot of questions,” Barragán continued, “as a member of Homeland Security, I know [we’re] going to have oversight hearings on this, but we need to have these questions answered.” Those are answers that House Democrats should use their full powers to get, because Felipe and Jakelin need justice.