It took several hours and the help of lawyers and Congress members for children asylum seekers to be accepted at the U.S. border where officials insist they are 'at capacity'.
Lawyers from the immigration advocacy group Al Otro Lado are denouncing the United States immigration policy in place at the U.S. southern border calling it ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’, not willing to accept refugees from Central America and Mexico.
During several Facebook videos posted on Monday night and early Tuesday morning by the Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project Director Nicole Ramos, the lawyer reported that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were denying 15 refugees, including at least eight unaccompanied minors, from applying for asylum at the nation’s largest port of entry, Mesa Otay.
“We are surrounded by CBP officers in riot gear and we don't understand why they can’t receive this small group of asylum seekers who we have evaluated as being at high risk for death, extortion, and kidnapping,” Ramos said in a short video clip filmed at Mesa Otay near San Diego, California.
She said that border agents continued to tell them that U.S. centers were “at capacity” but she rebutted that the administration has been saying this for over a year and, “we don’t buy this.”
The immigration lawyer who has been accompanying Central American Exodus members who arrived in Tijuana over a month ago to seek asylum since at least that time said the Donald Trump administration is violating national and international law by denying refugees at its border.
“This is the wealthiest government in the world. … How is that the United States can’t get a plan together to process refugees?” Ramos questioned to the camera.
“Saying there is a lack of capacity is just an excuse for saying ‘we don't want refugees and certainly not those from Central America and Mexico. This is racism, this is xenophobia,” added Ramos. The lawyer said this move by CPB isn’t “just a few bad apples (but) comes from the top. It’s a concerted effort” by the U.S. government to deter migrants and asylum seekers from trying to enter the U.S.
The group comprised mostly children but also included Honduran Maria Meza and her children, the family appeared in a widely circulated photograph taken by Reuters as the family dodged tear gas thrown by U.S. CPB agents earlier this month when some refugees tried to enter into U.S. at Tijuana.
Sandra Cordero, from advocacy group Families Belong Together, who also accompanied the migrants, said eight unaccompanied minors were eventually accepted to be processed for asylum, along with Meza and her family.
Using a so-called ‘metering’ system, U.S. border agents and officials are saying they can limit how many asylum seekers can enter each day at U.S. ports of entry. The method is forcing thousands of refugees to wait months at temporary encampments in Mexico who fled violence, poverty, and hunger due to climate change in the migrant caravan that left in several waves from Central America starting in mid-October.
Democratic U.S. Representatives Jimmy Gomez and Nanette Barragan were also with the refugees and lawyers at the Otay Mesa port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, but were still denied processing rights until early Tuesday morning.
"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,” border patrol agents told the lawyers and legislators Monday night.
President Trump declared the caravans an "invasion," and sent several thousand troops to "harden" the border, along with fortifying parts of the existing ‘border wall’.
Ramos lashed out at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that controls border flows and immigration in one of the video after having been at the port for several hours in the rain.
“Department of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen has gone before Congress to say that all anyone who presents themselves at a port of entry should be accepted for asylum processing. That is a lie. She lied before Congress,” said the lawyer from the Tijuana, Mexico border.
La Raza Centro Legal aid group based in San Francisco, California is demanding an “exhaustive investigation” into the death of seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal who died of exhaustion and dehydration while in a U.S. custody earlier this month.
"Honestly, I hope there is a neutral and exhaustive investigation and that in any case, it involves immigrants seeking asylum here," Lydia Lopez said on Monday.