“The children we saw were filthy, wearing the same wet and muddy clothes in which they traveled. Many were covered in mucus and vomit. Babies had soiled diapers. The children smelled foul,” Hope Frye, immigration attorney and one of several witnesses who testified at a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that was examining treatment of refugees in U.S. detention.
Michael Breen of Human Rights First criticized the use of the term ‘catch and release’ – a policy in which illegal immigrants are released from detention while awaiting a court hearing on their status.
“These are human beings, not trout. Presenting yourself at a port of entry to seek asylum is exercising your right under international law. You have not been caught. You have volunteered yourself,” Breen said, referencing the use of the word by former acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello, who was also present at the hearing.
Apprehensions along the border have spiked to the highest in at least a decade, driven by families from Central America who say they are seeking asylum and fleeing violence in their home countries..
The hearing came as a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told reporters that border agents were detaining only about 200 unaccompanied children at locations in the Southwest as of Wednesday, down from more than 2,500 in May. The reduction reflects funding increases that have enabled a federal health agency to expand its holding capacity.
Earlier in the day, a Guatemalan asylum seeker left some members of the U.S. House panel visibly shaken with the story of her daughter’s death, saying the toddler had contracted a deadly lung infection during a 20-day detention near the U.S. border with Mexico.