New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez testifying before the House Oversight Committee hearing on family separation and detention centers. Next to her, also testifying, are seated Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, right, and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Earlier this month, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that migrants detained at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility she and other representatives visited said they were being told to drink out of the toilet by CBP officers. Conservatives laughed at her, and called her a liar.

Since then, AOC, along with Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, have become the target of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ire. Pelosi has attempted to diminish their power, insisting that they have no actual following within Congress, and are only popular on social media.

But on Friday, Ocasio-Cortez showed just how wrong Pelosi is to question what these House freshmen can accomplish, testifying before the House Oversight Committee regarding family separation and detention centers. She spoke about her experiences visiting that detention center and others, along with Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, Pressley, and Tlaib (and Republicans Wisconsin Rep. Debbie Lasko, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, and Texas Reps. Michael Cloud and Chip Roy).

Ocasio-Cortez insisted she be sworn in before testifying, saying later that she wanted to prove to conservative attackers that she and the other Democratic representatives weren’t exaggerating the accounts of poor conditions and mistreatment from detained migrants.

Advertisement

Advertisement

During her testimony, Ocasio-Cortez entered a document into the record showing written statements from detained migrants themselves, emphasizing that these families are not being centered nearly enough within the narrative of the crisis at the border.

“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,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I believe these women.”

Advertisement

Tlaib began tearing up during her testimony while speaking about Jakelin Caal Maquin, the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died from sepsis while in CBP custody with her father. She recalled the children she saw during her detention center visits, such as a boy who asked her in Spanish where his father was, and entered into the record a photo of a drawing made by another child, of a group of people sleeping on the floor behind the wall of a cage.

Advertisement

Tlaib said that while at one of the facilities, she asked CBP officers what they thought should be done. She said one told her that the government needed to stop sending money, because it wasn’t working. Another told her that they hadn’t been trained to be a social worker or medical professional, and that they wanted to be at the border.

A third reportedly said they knew that the family separation policy, which the Trump administration called off last summer but still enacts for families that aren’t biological children of parents, wasn’t working.

Advertisement

Pressley recalled the light or nonexistent answers she and her colleagues were given by some CBP agents when she attempted to inquire about things such as air conditioning.

Advertisement

She recalled one woman whose hand she held as the woman cried, concerned that she, an epileptic who had her medication taken from her by CBP, could fall to the floor in a seizure at any moment. Pressley went on to detail that, despite knowing America so far only as their captor, these migrant women still believe so strongly in the promise of America.

“These families need trauma support, case workers, clean water, adequate and nutritious food,” she said. “Instead they have received a level of degradation we should be ashamed is occurring on American soil.”

Advertisement

These are the House Democrats—the up-and-coming women of color—whom Pelosi has spent the past six months attempting to silence and corral. If their testimonies before the House committee do anything beyond sharing the stories of detained migrants who deserve more empathy and attention, they illustrate just how much of a disservice she does to try to curb their power merely in order to maintain her own.