Democratic Congressmembers Camp Out With Migrants at U.S. Border, Help Tear-Gassed Family Make Asylum Claim

Two Democratic lawmakers have been camped out since Monday with a group of Central American asylum seekers who made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border town of Tijuana, to help escort some of the most vulnerable to a U.S. port of entry.

Among that group were Maria Meza and her five children—the Honduran family pictured in a photo that shook the world, showing Meza and her children, with two still in diapers, fleeing tear gas fired by U.S. Border Patrol agents last month.

After waiting with Meza and her family for seven hours, Democratic Representative Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles told Newsweek that Meza and her children were finally able to make their asylum claims at the U.S. border on Monday evening at the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego.

The family, along with thousands of other Central American asylum seekers, had been waiting for weeks to make their asylum claims.

After 7hrs, I can now confirm:

Maria Meza & her kids — featured in this @Reuters image fleeing tear gas at the border last month — just filed for asylum.

They’re on American soil.@RepBarragan & I are still here observing conditions on the ground. #RefugeesWelcome @fams2gether

— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 18, 2018

Gomez said it was still unclear whether Meza and her family had passed their "credible fear" interview, an initial screening in which asylum seekers must be able to demonstrate a well-founded fear that they would face persecution if they were sent back to their home countries.

The Los Angeles congressman said he believed Meza, a mother of nine, did have good reason to fear returning to Honduras.

"Her brother was killed by a drug trafficker, and then one of her older children was recruited in a drug gang…and that's why she decided to flee to the U.S. That's why she left," Gomez told Newsweek in a phone interview as he remained camped out at the Tijuana-San Diego border with other asylum seekers hoping to make their claims.

Hour 11. Been here since 2pm. Still waiting for asylum seekers to be processed and @CBP to show us their capacity issues. We are not leaving the Otay Mesa facility. Guess we’ll be spending the night.

— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 18, 2018

Gomez said Meza believed that if she had stayed in Honduras, "if her children weren't recruited by gangs, they would be killed."

While Meza and her children have finally been allowed onto U.S. soil to make their asylum claims, Gomez said that he and fellow Democratic Representative Nanette Barragán would continue to stand watch at the border until other asylum seekers were allowed to make their claims.

The congressman said that the group had been forced to wait in a small enclosure outside the port of entry, enduring cold weather.

Gomez also said that he had reason to believe that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents could potentially be breaking U.S. and international laws when it came to processing asylum claims, with CBP agents saying that they were turning asylum seekers away or forcing them to wait hours because the facilities were at full capacity.

The Democrat said he did not believe ports of entry "really are at capacity," adding that when asked, CBP agents refused to say how many people had been processed during the 11 hours he and Barragán had so far spent waiting with asylum seekers.

"What we're seeing is that, basically, they're making these migrants wait hour after hour and they're saying that it's capacity that's the issue, but we're seeing that's not really the issue," Gomez said. "We're seeing that they're just deciding to limit the number of people they let in."

CBP agents also refused to allow Gomez or Barragán inside the Otay Mesa facility, with Barragán tweeting: "We would love to see the full capacity they keep citing."

Gomez said he believed that, much like the "child separation crisis," the ongoing issue at the U.S.-Mexico border "is a manufactured crisis that the Trump administration has caused."

Central American asylum seekers have faced weeks of waiting in Tijuana to make their asylum claims after arriving there last month. And they could face weeks, if not months, of more waiting, with asylum officers processing no more than 100 claims each day at San Diego ports of entry such as San Ysidro.

This is developing story and it will be updated as more information becomes available.