With fear of the guards, feeling ill, with little sleep and no soap in sight, so the hours go by for thousands of children held in detention centers for undocumented immigrants in the United States, a Columbia University law professor told lawmakers Friday.
"I want to share with you what I heard, saw and smelled," Elora Mukherjee, director of the Columbia Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic, said before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The hearing, The Trump Administration's Child Separation Policy: Substantiated Allegations of Mistreatment, also included testimony from members of Congress.
Mukherjee has been involved for the last 12 years in efforts to ensure that authorities comply with a 1997 court settlement that established standards for the treatment of minors in the custody of immigration authorities.
Several weeks ago she visited the installations of the migrant detention center at Clint, Texas, which became the focus of a national debate after a group of attorneys reported the unhealthy conditions at the facility.
According to their reports, the installations were without diapers for the babies and without soap, clean clothes, toothbrushes or adequate food for the youngsters.
That expedition, made up of Mukherjee, other attorneys and a doctor, met with some 70 detained immigrant children at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) installations at Clint.
"Never before have we learned of 700 children being detained in a facility built for 104 or 106 adults," she told the House panel.
"Never before have we met with children detained in (CBP) custody for a week, much less weeks and nearly a month. Never before have we had to directly intervene to get critically ill babies admitted to the hospital," Mukherjee said.
The lawyer said that many of the children "had a strong stench emanating from them because they were dirty and had not showered."
She also recalled several incidents in which the children showed how afraid they were of the guards at Clint.
"One 6-year-old girl, detained all alone could only say: 'I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm scared,' over and over again," the professor said. "She could not even tell me her name."
In her report, Mukherjee said the children should be handed over as quickly as posible to members of their families who are in the US or to guardians with sufficient safeguards to guarantee they can go forward with migratory procedures.
"Children were hungry. Children were traumatized," she said. "I was, and I remain, shaken to my core by what I witnessed at Clint."
President Donald Trump's administration said that a humanitarian crisis exists on the border with Mexico, which is the result of the overcrowding in the facilities of border authorities.
But one of the legislators who testified at Friday's hearing about their recent visit to the border, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said the crisis was "manufactured."
"It is unnecessary to separate children from their families," the New York Democrat said. "This is a manufactured crisis because there is no need for us to do this."
The congresswoman entered into the record the names of 17 detained women migrants who told her that they had been compelled to drink from toilets.
"When these women tell me that they were put into a cell and that their sink was not working, and we tested the sink ourselves, and the sink was not working. And they were told to drink out of a toilet bowl. I believe them. I believe these women," Ocasio-Cortez said.
At one point during her testimony, after a Republican lawmaker dismissed the story about the toilets as unfounded, Ocasio-Cortez stood up and swore an oath. EFE-EPA asl/cd