Yazmin Juárez speaks at a hearing on July 10, 2019, in Washington, of the treatment of migrant children at the border. His 19-month-old daughter, Marie, passed away six weeks after being released from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center where Mariee fell ill. (Photo: Yehyun Kim, USAT)

WASHINGTON – Yazmin Juarez said he fled Guatemala last year to seek a better life in the United States with his granddaughter. But Juarez said that Mariee, 19 months old, died of a viral infection of the respiratory tract for three weeks of detention, despite being hospitalized after her release.

"We made this trip because we feared for our life," said Juarez at the House Subcommittee on Monitoring and Human Rights Reform through an interpreter. "Instead, I watched my little girl die slowly and painfully before her second birthday."

His story seemed to touch a chord with lawmakers on both sides. Six migrant children have died in federal custody since December. An unprecedented influx of migrants from Central America has raised a debate about humanitarian aid, border security and asylum standards.

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"Your story has broken the heart of America," said the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. "But your courage has given us a second chance to do things right."

Representative Chip Roy, R-Texas, called for consensus on border security and asylum laws. He noted that customs and border protection have saved 3,000 people this year despite the scarcity of resources.

"I can not imagine what you went through," said Roy. "We have a broken immigration system and must act quickly."

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Juarez has filed a complaint for wrongful death against the government. Her lawyers told her not to discuss why she had fled Guatemala. But she described in detail what happened to her daughter.

After asking for asylum at the border, Juarez said that she and Marie had spent several days with the Customs and Border Protection Service in an icy cell dubbed "the cooler", sleeping on a concrete floor with 30 people in the room.

The mother and daughter were later transferred to an immigration and customs control center in Dilley, Texas. After a week, surrounded by sick children, Mariee is coughing and sneezing, Juarez said. The diagnosis after queuing for medical care was a respiratory infection treated with tylenol and honey for coughing.

The next day, Mariee had a fever of 104 degrees and suffered from diarrhea and vomiting, said Juarez. Then, more care lines. Mariee was prescribed antibiotics, but Juarez said she had asked for further examination while her daughter's weight had melted. She then received Pedialyte and Vicks VapoRub, but Mariee did not want to eat or sleep, said Juarez.

"It was very difficult to see her suffer," said Juarez, a framed photo of her daughter sitting on the witness's table next to her.

People listen to the story of Yazmin Juárez with the photo of Juárez and his daughter Mariee on the screen on July 10, 2019 in Washington. (Photo: Yehyun Kim, USAT)

After their release, Juarez said that she had taken Marie to the hospital, the first of three that they eventually visited. Mariee was diagnosed with viral lung infection and was transferred to another hospital where Juarez reported being stung and beaten for six weeks before finally being ventilated.

"I could not hold her or hug her when she asked her mother," Juarez said through occasional tears and sniffles. "As a mother, I would have liked to take her place."

Mariee passed away on Mother's Day in Guatemala on May 10, 2018. Juarez left the hospital with a sheet of paper with Marye's handprints painted in pink that nurses had prepared for the holidays.

"It was the only thing I had left," Juarez said, wiping his eyes. "The nurses gave it to me as a Mother's Day gift."

Juarez said that she had come to the United States for a better future: to work, study and learn. She chose to testify to educate lawmakers and improve conditions of detention in child detention centers described as "angels" treated as "animals".

"I am here today because I want to put an end to this," said Juarez. "It is very difficult to see so many children and none of them are my daughter, and to think that I will never see her again, that I will not take her in my arms, that I am not Will not enjoy being with her or telling her how much I love her.

"It's as if they had torn a piece of my heart, as they tore up my soul," said Juarez.

To learn more about the federal detention of children along the border:

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