Ronald D. Vitiello, who served as chief of U.S. Border Patrol and later as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told Breitbart News that the description of mistreatment a migrant mom spoke about at a hearing on Wednesday was “very inconsistent” with the “culture of border patrol.”
At the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing, entitled “Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border,” Yazmin Juarez spoke about the three weeks she and her daughter, Mariee, spent at a border facility after traveling to the United States from Guatemala.
The 19-month-old girl died from a respiratory infection several weeks after being released, and Juarez claimed her daughter did not get medical treatment while in the U.S. Border Patrol facility and that an agent spoke unkindly to her during a phone conversation.
During the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had an exchange with Juarez about a “culture of cruelty” at the facility where she and her daughter stayed.
“First of all my heart goes out to Ms. Juarez and her child and the loss,” Vitiello told Breitbart News. “We all feel sad and sorry about that.”
“What she described as the treatment and some of the language that was used against her is very inconsistent with what I know about the culture of the border patrol,” Vitiello said.
“I’m not clear who she was talking to on the phone,” Vitiello said. “I’m not clear why she was talking on the phone with a CBP official when she was in a CBP facility.”
“The story is sad if it’s true — it is misconduct — but I can’t exactly understand what she’s trying to describe to us,” said Vitiello, whose career at the border started as an agent in the 1980s.
Vitiello also said that border facilities have medical staff.
“No question about it,” Vitiello said.
In his prepared remarks, Vitiello described how he and his colleagues have worked to save the lives of migrants.
“In my experience, it was evident that prior to 9-11 most Americans were unaware of the issues regarding border security,” he said. “Although border communities and law enforcement were challenged by drug and alien smugglers, deaths of migrants were and are common.”
“I’ve rescued and attempted to revive those who suffered at the hands of unscrupulous smugglers,” Vitiello said. “I’ve watched my colleagues risk there own well being to save the lives of those who smugglers have abandoned.”
Vitiello said that until Congress acts, the border crisis will not be resolved.
“The misery that’s being exacted on these people on this journey and what’s happening at the border and what our agents are going through is going to continue until the law changes,” he said.
In his prepared remarks, Vitiello spelled out specifically what he believes would end the border crisis, including fixing the Flores legal agreement that led to catch and release policies on the border:
I urge Congress to give DHS and its components the authority and capability to end this crisis.
First: Pass legislation that fixes Flores. The surest way to reduce the flow is to change the incentives. Allow DHS to hold families in custody during the immigration proceedings. If families are held in custody for their due process and swiftly removed after a deportation order, others will stay at home.
Second: Fully fund all the required resources to fully implement the historic Migrant Protection Protocol. Port Courts, and facilities for migrants waiting in Mexico to quickly have a hearing and swiftly adjudicate their cases.
Third: Pass legislation that allows for UACs (Unaccompanied Alien Children) to be treated under the law the same way we treat Mexican and Canadian UACs. Mexican and Canadian UACs who are not trafficking victims are repatriated if they are not asylees or qualify for other relief from deportation.
Fourth: Reduce the rhetoric that blames U.S. officials for faithfully enforcing the laws that are on the books. The agents and offices of the DHS took an oath to follow the law when they encounter illegal aliens. UACs must be processed and turned over to HHS so they can be placed in shelter care. Families must be placed in proceedings before releases.
Fifth: Fully fund the Border Security Improvement Plan (BSIP). The BSIP is designed to provide the necessary Personnel, Technology and Infrastructure to substantially meet the expectation of the American people for a secure border.
Sixth: Pass legislation that sanctions state and local jurisdictions for failing to cooperate with immigration enforcement.
Seventh: Fully staff and fund the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. If we believe in immigration is a benefit for our country, enforcement and integrity in the immigration system must be funded.
Juarez was the sole witness on the first panel at the hearing, while Vitiello was the only minority witness on the second panel of mostly human rights activists.
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