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Maria Meza's family gets tear-gassed

A migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, run away from tear gas in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Despite Intimidation Tactics, Mom and Kids Tear-Gassed at US Border Finally Allowed to File for Asylum

A pair of Democratic lawmakers live-tweeted their experience accompanying asylum-seekers overnight at the Otay Mesa port of entry

Jessica Corbett

A group of migrants—including a Honduran mother and her children who were photographed being sprayed with tear gas at the border last month—was allowed to apply for asylum on Tuesday after camping out on U.S. soil near the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego, California for hours with two members of Congress who documented the experience, which featured intimidation tactics by federal agents, on social media.

Democratic Reps. Jimmy Gomez and Nanette Barragán of California—who stayed with the migrants overnight, until the entire group submitted applications—posted on Twitter that Maria Meza and her five children were permitted to file for asylum early Tuesday, after waiting seven hours:

Although Meza's family and eight unaccompanied minors were allowed to submit their asylum applications shortly after midnight, it was several more hours before the remaining migrants from the group that had crossed over from Mexico on Monday afternoon were allowed to apply.

"The asylum seekers, organized by legal aid group Al Otro Lado, were selected to participate because they are particularly vulnerable in Tijuana," according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. As the newspaper reported:

They walked up to the port of entry in small groups around 2:30 p.m. to avoid being noticed by Mexican immigration officials who might send them away before they reached their goal, the U.S.

When they stepped over the border boundary, the asylum-seekers, all from Honduras, sat down in hopes that officials would allow them in for asylum processing. A group of attorneys, law students, and other volunteers who were all U.S. citizens formed a human shield around the sitting migrants to keep anyone from trying to force them back into Mexico.

As shown in photo updates from the lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates, agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—which claimed the delays were due to capacity issues—fenced in the group overnight:

Barragán also said the federal agents were in "full riot gear." Denouncing CBP as "a rogue actor" and demanding accountability, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the agency of "attempting to intimidate members of Congress for fulfilling their constitutional duty to conduct oversight."

A CBP spokesperson echoed the capacity claims that agents made on the ground in San Diego, telling The Hill, "As we have done for several years, when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities."

In a pair of videos shared by Families Belong Together, Gomez and Barragán cast doubt on those claims. "What we're seeing here is they're saying that they don't have the capacity but that doesn't seem to be the case because no one has been allowed in to see if they have the capacity," Gomez said. "So we're here to observe, to make sure they're following U.S. law and international law."

While thanking the pair of lawmakers for supporting the migrants, the advocacy organization Human Rights First declared in a series of tweets, "it should NOT take intervention from members of Congress and hours of waiting in the cold on U.S. soil for CBP agents to do their jobs and process asylum requests in a timely manner."

"It should NOT take intervention from members of Congress and hours of waiting in the cold on U.S. soil for CBP agents to do their jobs and process asylum requests in a timely manner."
—Human Rights First

The incident comes as President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the government over border wall funding and his administration is pursuing a multi-pronged effort to limit all forms of immigration from Central and South America.

It also comes amid reports that CBP is using "metering"—or, as BuzzFeed explains, "when officials limit the number of individuals who can make asylum claims at ports of entry on any given day"—in hopes of discouraging applicants.

"Finally, after a long night, all of the asylum seekers were admitted," Human Rights First tweeted late Tuesday morning. "While it's good to have a happy ending to this story, CBP is still engaging in deliberate 'metering' practices that put people's lives at risk while they wait in Mexico."

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