During the week of Dec. 16, Californian Congressmembers Nanette Barragán and Jimmy Gomez camped out in the cold at the Tijuana-San Diego border to help facilitate the safe passage of Honduran immigrants into the US.

The Congress members spent a night outside in freezing cold temperatures with 39-year-old Maria Meza and her five children near the Otay Mesa port of entry on the US side of the border. The Congress members were asked to observe as Meza, along with her children, presented herself for asylum.

U.S. House of Reps./Sharon Wallace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nanette Barragan, U.S. House of Reps./Sharon Wallace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Barragán said in an interview with Democracy Now!: “In our situation you had Customs and Border Protection officers sitting right there, allowing three- and four-year-old children waiting hours on end—in Maria’s case, nine hours—in the cold on the cement. They could go nowhere to eat. They couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom, because if they left this little patch of US soil, Mexican immigration officials and police were on the Mexico line just waiting for them.”

Although Meza and her family had to wait for nine hours before they were allowed to request asylum, there are reports of other families waiting in the cold for as long as 21 hours before they were allowed to cross the US port of entry.

The Congress members witnessed an attitude of apathy from some of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. “And so, to see the disregard that some of the officers and CBP had for migrants was just disturbing to see and hear. We even had a CBP officer who was talking out loud about how terrible migrants were, how they were coming to commit crime. And so, if they have this attitude, they really aren’t going to have any regard for human life and their dignity,” Barragán told Democracy Now!

Barragán went on to affirm that there are also some good CBP agents: “Now, let me tell you, there are good CBP agents. I represent a port of entry. But there are bad apples, and that’s a real issue. So we want to make sure that there is an investigation on what happens.”

Earlier in the month, Meza and her children were photographed clinging to each other while they fled tear gas fired by US Border Patrol agents.

Meza reportedly said of the incident: [translated] “Well, I felt sad, scared and wanting to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and started running. At that moment, I thought I was going to die with them because of the gas. We ran, and we fell into the mud and struggled to get up amidst the gas. A young man gave me his hand and pulled me up to my feet. I wasn’t expecting it. We never thought they were going to fire these bombs where there were children. Because there were lots of children, not just mine. There were more children with mothers there. They also started running, too, just like me.”

US House Office of Photography [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

US House Office of Photography [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All asylum seekers must pass a “credible fear” interview in which they must demonstrate their fear of persecution in the event they are forced to return to their home countries. Meza said she feared her children would either be recruited by gangs or killed if she stayed in Honduras.

“Her brother was killed by a drug trafficker, and then one of her older children was recruited in a drug gang…and that’s why she decided to flee to the US. That’s why she left,” Gomez told Newsweek in a phone interview.

Throughout the long, cold night, Congressmembers Gomez and Barragán stayed with Meza and her children, reassuring them. Periodically, they would talk to the CBP agents, asking for updates on when Meza and her family could present themselves for asylum. Barragán even began to sing with Meza’s children while they waited.

Meza’s asylum is currently being processed.

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