WASHINGTON — A Guatemalan mother seeking asylum told a House panel Wednesday that she came to the United States seeking safety, but instead watched her daughter die slowly and painfully after the 19-month-old received shoddy medical care while they were in immigration custody.
As Yazmin Juárez spoke, an image of her brown-eyed girl, Mariee, was put up on television screens in the hearing room. The girl had fallen ill when she was detained with her mother in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility 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.’’
The emotional hearing before a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee came amid renewed outrage over treatment of children at the border following media articles and a watchdog report that found squalid conditions for children.
Representative Chip Roy of Texas, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said the hearing seemed solely meant to twist the political knife aimed at the Trump administration, especially given that 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 is struggling to keep up amid Trump’s hard-line rhetoric.
The numbers for June were down 28 percent as hot weather and a Mexican crackdown on asylum-seekers traveling through the country had an effect. Administration officials say it’s a step in the right direction, but the system is still at the breaking point.
The hearing was one of three on the issue planned over the coming weeks.
The committee chairman, Representative 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, a Democrat from Maryland, at a news conference before the hearing.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who has referred to the detention facilities as concentration camps, asked Juárez in Spanish whether there are safe and sanitary conditions.
‘‘No,’’ Juárez said.
She said the nurses at the facility did not conduct thorough medical examinations, dismissing her pleas with Tylenol. Juárez said she and her daughter were released about two weeks after they arrived. The girl was cleared for travel despite her illness, a viral lung infection.
Juárez, who has filed a legal claim seeking $60 million from the US government for her death, said she testified because she wanted everyone to know about the conditions in ICE facilities.
‘‘I do not want more children to suffer,’’ she said.