Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez broke down in tears Wednesday as an asylum seeker mother gave a harrowing account of her one-year-old daughter's death after being detained in US custody.
Guatemalan Yazmin Juárez told a House panel that she came to the United States seeking safety, but instead watched her infant daughter die slowly and painfully after the baby received shoddy medical care while they were in immigration custody.
As the emotional mother spoke Democrat Ocasio-Cortez wiped away tears and an image of her brown-eyed baby girl, Mariee, was put up on television screens in the hearing room.
The baby had fallen ill with a high fever, vomiting and diarrhea when mother and daughter were detained in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dilley, Texas, last year.
'It's like they tore out a piece of my heart,' Juárez said.
'I wanted to have a better life for her and a better future so that she could keep growing, but now we won't be able to do that and she is gone.'
After question Juárez at the hearing AOC said: 'What is being pointed to here is a culture of cruelty.
'To have a CBP officer tell a migrant woman 'this country is for Americans' and to threaten separating her from her daughter, to threaten a human rights violation is extraordinarily concerning.'
Yazmin Juárez, reacts as a photos of her daughter, Mariee, one, who died after being released from detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is placed next to her
The emotional hearing before a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee came amid renewed outrage - and an increasingly acrimonious political atmosphere - over treatment of children at the border following media articles and a watchdog report that found squalid conditions for children.
Many were crammed for days or weeks into fetid spaces not meant to hold them longer than 72 hours.
New York congressional freshman AOC, who has referred to the detention facilities as concentration camps, asked Juárez in Spanish whether there are safe and sanitary conditions.
'No,' Juárez said.
The room was silent during her testimony and some lawmakers wiped away tears.
She said the nurses at the facility did not conduct thorough medical examinations, dismissing her pleas with Tylenol.
She was seen once by a doctor and was given an ice pop. She said her and her daughter were released about two weeks after they arrived. The baby was cleared for travel despite her illness.
Juárez, who has filed a legal claim seeking $60 million from the U.S. government for her baby's death, said she testified because she wanted everyone to know about conditions.
'I do not want more children to suffer,' she said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hugs Yazmin Juárez after Juárez testified to a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about the treatment of immigrant children at the southern border, Wednesday
AOC and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) listen as Yazmin Juarez testifies Wednesday
Rep. Ayanna Pressley hugs Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez following a press conference before a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill
She said through a translator: 'It is painful for me to relive this experience and remember that suffering, but I am here because the world should know what is happening to so many children in ICE detention.
'My beautiful girl is gone, but I hope her story will spur this country's government to act so that more children do not die because of neglect and mistreatment.'
'I couldn't even hold her, or hug her, or console her when she asked for her mother. As a mother I wish I could have taken her place.
'My daughter is gone. The people who are in charge of running these facilities and caring for these little angels are not supposed to let these things happen to them,' she said.
Yazmin had previously told ABC News: 'Frankly, to me, it was completely irresponsible. I think they should think about the children. The children are little angels, and this is not their fault.'
A picture of Yazmin Juarez and her 19-month-old Mariee, who died after detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said even the hearing's title, 'Kids in Cages,' seemed solely meant to twist the political knife aimed at the Trump administration, especially given that the chain-link fences were common under the Obama administration.
'We all agree they're stretched, there is no disagreement in this room,' Roy said of border officials, arguing that rank-and-file officers and agents are being unfairly criticized. 'I've seen these facilities and I have not seen a cage in the way it has been depicted.'
Tens of thousands of migrant families cross the border each month, greatly straining an immigration system that has struggling to keep up amid Trump's hard-line rhetoric.
The numbers for June were down 28 per cent as hot weather and a Mexican crackdown on asylum-seekers traveling through Mexico had an effect.
Administration officials say it's a step in the right direction, but they say the system is still at the breaking point.
The hearing was one of three on the issue planned over the coming weeks on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee was to consider subpoenas regarding the administration's practice of separating families at the border.
The committee chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, said the treatment of children has amounted to 'government-sponsored child abuse.'
'We should all be able to agree on some basic fundamental premises. First, anyone in the custody of the United States of America should be treated humanely and with respect,' said Cummings, D-Md., said at a news conference before the hearing.