Lawmaker describes 'unacceptable' border detention conditions, meets with US citizen in Border Patrol custody

Lawmaker describes 'unacceptable' border detention conditions, meets with US citizen in Border Patrol custody

WASHINGTON – A U.S. lawmaker described 'unacceptable' border detention facilities while meeting with a U.S. citizen who was in Customs and Border Patrol custody for hours on Friday. 

Rep. Nannette Barragán, D-Calif., had been on a congressional tour of facilities on the southern U.S. border when the delegation stopped at the Ursula Detention Center, a Border Patrol processing and detention center near McAllen, Texas. 

Barragán told USA TODAY she had been walking around the facility looking for people who looked like they wanted to talk. She spotted one woman by a fence in the facility so Barragán knelt down to talk to her.

The woman told Barragán she was traveling from Ecuador along with her 13-year-old daughter, a U.S. citizen.

“I was shocked," said Barragán, who took took pictures of the girl's passport. Barragán said the document stated the girl was born in New York.

The congresswoman added she was "in shock about why there was an American citizen being detained in one of these facilities.”

In a statement to USA TODAY, Customs and Border Protection said "the daughter had crossed the border from the U.S. to meet her mother and they were then apprehended crossing back into the U.S. illegally."

CBP added the mother and her daughter were held "in custody at the Centralized Processing Center for about five hours and were released two hours after they were processed." 

The mother was provided a "Notice to Appear," or a document with instructions to appear before an immigration judge for a hearing, CBP said.

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US Representative Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA) speaks during a press conference following a tour in Border Patrol facilities and migrant detention centers for 15 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 1, 2019 in Clint, Texas. (Photo by Luke MONTAVON / AFP)
US Representative Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA) speaks during a press conference following a tour in Border Patrol facilities and migrant detention centers for 15 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 1, 2019 in Clint, Texas. (Photo by Luke MONTAVON / AFP)

Barragán had brought greater scrutiny to the girl's situation after tweeting a picture of the her passport on Friday afternoon.

Later on Friday, Barragán announced the girl and her mother had been released from Border Patrol custody after she and other congressional Democrats started pressuring the Department of Homeland Security to release the girl and her mother.

"It was a lot of calls and talking to people," Barragán told USA TODAY.  “We’ve seen (the Border Patrol) take action when members inquire" and "start asking lots of questions." 

Barragán told USA TODAY the conditions in the detention center were "unacceptable," with areas "filled with women and children." In a tweet, Barragán noted how kids had so little in the facility that they were using their Mylar blankets to make hair ties. 

Barragán said the mother of the girl most of all feared being separated from her child, alluding to the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" immigration policy that had resulted in the separation of migrant children from their families.

"Don’t take my daughter away, don’t separate her from me," the mother told Barragán. 

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The Trump administration's border detention facilities have drawn increased scrutiny after a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found that children in Border Patrol detention in the Rio Grande Valley were held in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Acting Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan told a congressional panel on Thursday that more resources were needed to address the situation at the border, as well as changes to immigration laws to discourage migration. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: