The Honduran family in the iconic photo from the U.S.-Mexico border are currently in the U.S. seeking asylum. According to Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), who spent the night at a port of entry with a group of asylum seekers, Maria Meza and her five children are currently being processed for asylum. The photograph of Meza and her twin daughters running away from tear gas provoked outrage on social media and quickly became a snapshot of the chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Almost two dozen asylum seekers, many of whom were children, waited in the cold for eight hours at the U.S. port of entry.
CBP kept telling us that they were at capacity & couldn’t process asylum seekers—including Maria Meza & her kids. When @RepJimmyGomez & I asked to go inside to see the capacity issue, @CBP refused. Families & children waited for over 6 hours in the cold before being processed. pic.twitter.com/g6nT4Z3QTe
— Nanette D. Barragán (@RepBarragan) December 19, 2018
Gomez and Barragan attempted to gain access to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on Monday with a group of 15 asylum seekers, including Meza and her children. Officials told them they only had the room to process eight unaccompanied children and the rest would have to go to another port of entry. After eight hours of waiting in the cold, Meza and her five children and the unaccompanied minors were taken in for processing, Gomez said on Twitter.
“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,” Gomez tweeted. “They’re on American soil. @RepBarragan & I are still here observing conditions on the ground.”
Meza and her children have been allowed into the U.S to make their asylum claims. It’s still unknown whether they have passed their “credible fear” interview. The interview is an initial screening in which asylum seekers must show proof that they would face persecution back in their home countries.
The members of Congress documented the long waits and conditions on Twitter for everyone to see how dire the situation is.
It’s been 8 hours.
— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 18, 2018
Barragan tweeted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent officers in “full riot gear” to surround the group. Images show the group seated peacefully with the members of Congress. Members of her staff were also detained, she said. Shortly after, CBP tweeted that families “without proper documentation and crossing US borders illegally” caused them to “hit capacity.” Barragan said their requests to see the facility at “capacity” were denied as they waited with the group. After 15 hours of waiting with the group, Gomez tweeted that he and Barragán left the border entry and that “most” of the group had been taken in for asylum interviews.
The legal aid group Al Otro Lado, organized the group of 15 asylum seekers, selected for how vulnerable they were waiting in Tijuana for asylum.
This woman, from iconic photo where migrant caravan tear-gassed, was allowed into US for asylum processing TONIGHT w/ her 5 kids after @RepBarragan and @JimmyGomezCA escorted them to Otay Mesa port of entry, with @AlOtroLado_Org and other advocacy groups. @KPBSnews pic.twitter.com/7MjP3FwazJ
— Jean Guerrero (@jeanguerre) December 18, 2018
Nicole Ramos, a legal attorney for Al Otro Lado, has assisted asylum seekers to present themselves at various ports of entry in Tijuana for years and has noticed for some recent years that U.S. border officials have begun turning them away. She questioned many of the government’s methods in handling the growing backlog of asylum seekers. “It’s not representative of what the government has the financial capacity to do,” Ramos told the San Diego Tribune.
A system called “metering” has limited the number of asylum seekers at U.S. ports of entry each day.
The family went viral after a photo was taken of them being tear gassed by U.S. agents. Listen to their story: pic.twitter.com/2dmv0elXDI
— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 18, 2018
The CBP says its ports of entry have capacity limits and aren’t prepared to process large numbers of migrant families requesting help. Gomez says that “metering” has nothing to do with the number of resources but a way to deter people from seeking asylum. Rising violence throughout Central America has caused thousands to flee to the U.S., many traveling by caravan across Mexico.
This has led to a backlog in asylum seekers that the CBP says has caused “a 121 percent increase in the number of asylum seekers.” Almost 93,000 claims of “credible fear,” the first step in seeking asylum, were processed this past fiscal year, a 67 percent jump from 2017, according to the CBP.
“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 told Newsweek. “We’re seeing that they’re just deciding to limit the number of people they let in.”