- A Democratic congresswoman tore into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday, accusing her of either “lying” or not knowing “what’s happening at the border.”
- Rep. Nanette Barragán said she’s witnessed Customs and Border Protection officers turn away migrants at the ports of entry, even though federal law entitles them to seek asylum.
- The California Democrat questioned whether Nielsen was familiar with asylum laws, and argued that “what you all are doing is not within the confines of the law.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faced off with fired-up Democrats on Wednesday who denounced her department’s handling of family separations and migrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Rep. Nanette Barragán, a California Democrat, was particularly incensed when she questioned Nielsen about protocols at the border when migrants request asylum. She said she recently witnessed border officials attempt to turn away a migrant seeking asylum at a port of entry by telling him to go away, and that he couldn’t enter without a visa.
Federal law stipulates that anyone can apply for asylum on US soil, regardless of their immigration or visa status. Nielsen testified on Wednesday that migrants seeking asylum are not turned away at the border.
“Either you’re lying to this committee, or you don’t know what’s happening at the border,” Barragán said. “I have been there firsthand, and I have seen it twice.”
Barragán was one of two lawmakers last December who witnessed a Honduran woman – who had previously been seen in a viral Reuters photograph getting teargassed at the border – try to seek asylum at a port of entry.
- Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
The woman, Maria Meza, and her children were eventually allowed on US soil where they could make their claims, but not until after the lawmakers spent hours waiting and watching at the port of entry, according to Barragán.
The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism from immigration advocates over its policy of “metering” at the ports of entry, meaning that CBP officers only allow a small number of migrants to enter and seek asylum at one time.
Homeland Security officials have defended the practice as necessary because of overcrowding at its border facilities, but immigration advocates have argued that the practice unjustly delays migrants from seeking protections they are guaranteed by law.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2019
“Do you know that two members of Congress had to sleep overnight and spend 14 hours in the cold, on the concrete at the Otay Mesa port of entry so that Maria … would be allowed to present herself? Because she was on US soil, and legally that’s what asylum allowed? Did you know that?” Barragán said. The heated exchange continued when Barragán asked Nielsen whether she was familiar with asylum laws, prompting Nielsen to say, “Yes.”
“Where in the asylum laws does it say that when you present yourself at a port of entry – and by the way when you’re on US soil – that you can be sent by an agent to another port of entry?” Barragán said, cutting Nielsen’s answer off. “It’s not in there. Because what you all are doing is not within the confines of the law.”
“The authority is to do all that we can to protect the migrants coming here,” Nielsen told her.
“That’s not what the asylum law says,” Barragán said.
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