Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) met them at the Anne Arundel Detention Center in Maryland, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold detained immigrants, most of whom are awaiting court proceedings or deportation.
The Democratic lawmakers had spent days working with an immigrant rights agency and asking ICE whether detainees or children were being held in Virginia or Maryland.
An aide to Beyer said the men — identified only as Carlos and Mario — could not clearly explain whether they had been criminally charged with entering the country illegally or were awaiting an asylum proceeding.
Carlos, who fled gang violence with his son, told Beyer and Ruppersberger that he crossed the U.S. border in El Paso and was arrested by federal officers March 10.
After being held in leg irons for several days, with his son by his side, the boy was removed. Carlos had made his son memorize his grandmother’s phone number back in Honduras. After he called her, she connected him to a family member in the United States. Three months passed before Carlos was able to speak to his son, Beyer said.
Mario told the lawmakers that his sister was a victim of domestic violence committed by a police officer. When the family attempted to press charges, a gang beat Mario up, Beyer said. He, his daughter and his sister surrendered to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on April 20; his sister was freed to await an asylum hearing, but Mario and his daughter were placed in a frigid ICE holding facility.
After three days, “an officer approached him and told him to give up his daughter, or she would be taken away,” Beyer said in an interview Wednesday. “He said his 5-year-old girl was dragged away from him crying and screaming, which was the last he saw her.”
Beyer said Mario told him that he finally heard from his daughter last week but still does not know where she is being held.
“As a parent, it was sort of like a punch in the gut,” Beyer added. “Our translator, halfway through, started crying, and you can understand why.”
Beyer’s Twitter thread, which included a video of him discussing the visit outside the detention facility, was retweeted more than 3,800 times in the first 24 hours after he posted it.
Ruppersberger told WBAL television Tuesday: “From my point of view as a father and grandfather, I would give my life for my children and grandchildren. We can’t do this. That’s not who we are as a country. We’ve got to stop this.”
Beyer called Wednesday for the resignation or firing of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, saying she “has become the public face of an immoral and deeply unpopular policy.”
“She is ultimately responsible for the inhumane treatment caused by her own failure of leadership,” Beyer said.