Rep. Pressley Testifies Before Oversight Committee on Her Trip to El Paso Detention Facilities
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), testified before her colleagues on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the human rights abuses she witnessed firsthand at the southern border in El Paso, Texas during a hearing entitled The Trump Administration’s Child Separation Policy: Substantiated Allegations of Mistreatment.
Last week, the Congresswoman visited Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detention facilities in El Paso, Texas, where she met with women who recounted the inhumane treatment they incurred at the El Paso detention facility.
Congresswoman Pressley’s testimony as delivered is below:
Chairman Cummings, Ranking Member Jordan and colleagues of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I believe that it is both our opportunity and our obligation as members of Congress to shed light on injustice and to lift the voices of the unheard. Make clear that I don’t say the voiceless – every person has a voice – but our institutions do not always listen. So today I do not speak on behalf of anyone. But I make space for the stories our nation so desperately needs to hear in this moment.
Mr. Chairman, I cannot un-see what I’ve seen. I cannot un-feel what I experienced. I refuse to. Although it admittedly robs me of sleep and peace of mind. But that pales in comparison to the pain felt by families that have been robbed of their liberty, their legal rights, and their dignity, and some even the lives of their babies.
During our stop at the El Paso Border Patrol Facility I pressed my hand to a plexiglass window. I met the gazes of several women on the other side. Their shoulders were slumped, their clothes filthy, their eyes vacant. I turned to a Border Patrol Officer and asked “what is the temperature in this room?” The officer responded, “I do not know.” I then asked how they set the temperature in the rooms, he mumbled again he did not know. Mr. Chairman, on the day of our visit, it was a sweltering 103 degrees in El Paso. “What’s the heat index at which you bring folks indoors,” I inquired. Border Patrol responded with no answer.
The most basic of questions about the care and welfare of those held in the custody of our government were either dismissed or met with a non-answer. Affirming what we know – this agency was never built, never designed, never trained for the care and keeping of families. These families need trauma supports, case workers, clean water, adequate and nutritious food. Instead they have received a level of degradation we should be ashamed is occurring on American soil.
Once we realized that we were not going to get the answers that we needed from CBP officers, my colleagues and I pushed our way through a doorway to speak directly with a group of approximately 10-15 women who were detained in a small room. These women held thin blankets. They sat on the cold concrete. They had tears in their eyes, and as we walked in relief and release as they collapsed at a sign of compassion. My colleagues Representatives Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez translated the women’s stories as quickly as they could.
I held the hand of a woman who heaved sobs as she explained her deep fear that at any moment she could fall to the floor in a seizure. She is an epileptic and the medicine she relies on had been confiscated. And in fact she feared that by telling that truth, she would experience retaliation after we left and her medication would continue to be withheld.
I spoke to another woman who wept in my arms crying for her baby. She didn’t care to know my name. She didn’t care to know who we were. She simply craved compassion. She wanted to be treated like a human being. She asked me if she deserved to be treated like this. If they deserved to be treated like dogs.
Each had survived a treacherous journey, overcoming tremendous obstacles. And while I am not fluent in Spanish, Mr. Chairman, I want you to understand that there was no barrier to understanding in that room. We speak the universal language of pain, of a mother’s love, of justice. These women are not voiceless Mr. Chairman, but they are cruelly and criminally unheard. Not today. Today, Congress has an opportunity to listen and to act.
After everything these women have endured. Fleeing violence, deep poverty, sexual violence, domestic abuse they arrive at the crest of this nation only to be torn apart from their babies and thrown in cages for seeking asylum- a legal right. A human right.
And in spite of all of that, they believe so fiercely in the promise of this nation. Mr. Chairman on that concrete floor sat women with a deep abiding love for a nation they had known only as a captor. In spite of the abuse and adversity they had endured all they desperately wanted to do was hold their babies and have this nation give them a chance. A chance to make a credible fear claim. A chance to make it to a court date. A chance to make the case that they would work so fiercely to make this nation their home just as generations and generations before them have done.
They begged us for forgiveness Mr. Chair. What will we say to this generation of children and parents we imprisoned for seeking safety? We should be the ones begging for forgiveness. All they want is one more chance to make their way, to protect their families, to live. I do not know what is more American than that.
Congresswoman Pressley has demonstrated steadfast advocacy on behalf of immigrants and their families in the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District and throughout the United States, repeatedly calling for robust oversight and accountability for ICE and CBP. Additionally, Congresswoman Pressley has also advocated for protections for Dreamers and TPS and DED holders, and wrote a letter to Secretary Ben Carson, condemning the Trump Administration’s cruel proposal to separate mixed immigration-status families.
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