Image of migrant father, daughter emphasize human cost of US policy at Mexico border

"Nightline" examines the policies that keep thousands of migrant children in facilities across the U.S., the allegedly filthy and sparse conditions they are kept in and how lawmakers are responding.
7:57 | 06/27/19

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Transcript for Image of migrant father, daughter emphasize human cost of US policy at Mexico border
A little girl, her father embracing, lifeless on the banks of the Rio grande. Families separated. Politicians on both sides throwing blame. This is today's immigration debate. For some it's policy. But for the families caught at the border, it's survival. We caution you. Some of these images are disturbing. Fall where you may in the political debate over immigration, but this image makes undeniable the hard and heart-wrenching human cost. A father and his daughter drowned for a dream at the u.s./mexico border. Image drawing outrage. I can't even look at it. You must. These children pose no threat to people here in the united States of America, and yet they are locked up. The president's actions at the border are a whirlwind of incompetence, leading to pictures like this. Reporter: Today the president was asked what he made of the photos. I hate it, and I know it could stop immediately if the Democrats change the law. They have to change the laws. They want to have open borders, and open borders mean crime. Reporter: This comes at a week where John Sanders stunningly resigned as the agency was skewered over the conditions of the facility. We have kids laying in their own snot with three-week-old diapers that haven't been changed. Reporter: Immigration was front and center at the first presidential debate. Immigrants do not diminish America. Them are America. Watching that image of Oscar and his daughter is heartbreaking. It should also piss us all off. Reporter: ABC news has learned that Oscar tried to claim asylum and enter legally at the Brownsville port of entry but was repeatedly turned away. So he swam across the river with his daughter, setting his daughter down when he reached the shore. When he started back for his wife, the girl tried to follow him. Ramirez went in after her but they were swept away. Her arm draped around his neck. This river has killed before. The only difference here, the world could be a witness. For those who do make it and claim asylum, deplorable conditions allegedly await them in overcrowded border shelters. This felt worse than jail. Reporter: Dr. Dolly Siever examined children. Seen in these handout images last year. She describes what she saw akin to torture. Florescent lights on 24/7. Many reported no access to basic sanitation. The conditions at these facilities are placing them at increased risk for infection, disease and death. Reporter: Attorney Warren Benson who interviewed children at a facility in Texas detailed equally dire conditions. Children left to care for each other. They're sleeping on concrete blocks. There are open toilets in the room. There is no soap. Reporter: An ABC reporter spoke with someone who works at the facility who pushed back on some of those claims. He felt that it had been exaggerated. This person told me that he said if three people have lice for example, do you call that an outbreak? He didn't think that the conditions were that deplorable. Reporter: This morning at a senate hearing, a cbp official denied horrific sanitary conditions at detentions centers. Does cbp have an obligation to provide toothpaste and soap to children in your custody, yes or no? We're providing that in el Paso in Clint station. The news reports say otherwise, but you say you have an obligation to do that. We have at the Clint station. Unfortunately, this administration through its policies, through its unwillingness to provide resources to those working at the border has placed the men and women of customs and border protection in an untenable position. It's unfair to the men and women in the department of homeland security and unfair to those coming to the United States seeking protection of the united States so that they can have a life free of violence and a life of economic opportunity. Reporter: It was for those reasons and more, that Ramos says he fled Honduras with his son Fernando. Reporter: The way to escape that deadly future, he says, was by seeking asylum in the U.S. They made a perilous three-month journey on foot, bus and train to reach the U.S. Border. The risk of getting there unimaginable to many, but what he left behind, he says, was far worse. Reporter: We first met anhel and his son in Mexico. Unlike some who have crossed into the U.S. Illegally, he says he wanted to do it the right way. The duo presented their case directly to U.S. Immigration officials at the Nogales port of entry. After a few days, immigration officials released them at this shelter in Tucson, Arizona. Reporter: The shelter a brief respite before they are reunited with friends who will serve as their sponsors. Their destination? Kansas City, Missouri, over 40 hours by bus. Each stop a reminder they are not alone. Surrounded by other families with hope for a future in America. After almost two days of travel, just past midnight, they arrive to their final destination. Months later they are still waiting for their first appearance in immigration court. Precious time, he says, filled with thoughts of the future. Click on our borderline series at ABC for continuing immigration coverage.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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