Eighteen members of Congress descended on a Mexican camp sitting near the US border Friday where hundreds of migrants are waiting to claim asylum.
The Democratic lawmakers navigated through tents, makeshift food stalls and clotheslines, interacting with migrants as they went.
The tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has grown over time as migrants, the majority of whom are from Central America, are required to wait until their court date in the US. The Trump administration implemented the policy, informally known as “remain in Mexico,” nearly one year ago. Since then, more than 57,000 people have been sent back to Mexico.
The policy is among a series a changes made by the administration to curb the flow of migrants to the southern border. At the height of the border crisis last year, Border Patrol arrested nearly 133,000 people. While border arrests have declined over recent months, migrants are still approaching the border to claim asylum.
Friday’s visit to the camp in Matamoros was led by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, along with Rep. Filemon Vela. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has repeatedly denounced the policy of sending back migrants to wait for the duration of their immigration proceedings.
“We’ve been fighting this policy from the beginning,” Castro said. “We wanted to keep highlighting the human rights abuses that the administration is generating.”
The Department of Homeland Security has defended the policy, calling it an “effective tool to address the ongoing crisis at the southwest border.”
As members of Congress walked through the grounds Friday, migrants approached them to share their stories. Others watched from afar.
Mikaela Hernandez, who came from Guatemala, told CNN that she planned to claim asylum in the United States and reunite with her husband in America. She’s been at the camp for four months and attended immigration court four times. She has a follow up hearing in February.
“All of us ask God that he help us and open doors for us,” she said, as her two-year-old daughter latched on to her leg.
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, expressed outrage over the program as she walked on the dirt path between tents and clothes hanging on trees.
“They sleep under that tent,” DeLauro said. “We have created here an unbelievable outrage against humanity.”
The House Judiciary Committee recently announced an investigation into the policy, requesting documents and information from acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
One of the challenges facing migrants waiting in Mexico is access to counsel to help them through their proceedings.
An individual’s presence at their court date is one of the few accounting mechanisms for the population of people who have fallen under the policy. But as those dates approach, many migrants – often times, waiting in perilous conditions in Mexico – aren’t showing up, highlighting in part the untenable conditions along the southern border.
Edgar Arias, a Venezuelan migrant, said he couldn’t afford counsel. His next court hearing in the US is in April.
Crouched over packing detergent for the camp, Arias, who arrived in August, said he remains hopeful.
As the members crossed back to the US, they encountered families with babies and young children trying to pass through, including a 6-year-old girl with Down Syndrome. Castro, along with a couple other members, stayed behind to help.
Democratic Rep. Nanette Barragan, of California, was among those who assisted and said the 6-year-old girl was paroled into the US.
“We had a good resolution today,” she said. “It shouldn’t take five members of Congress to advocate.”