Two members of Congress accompanied a group of asylum seekers at a San Diego port of entry on Monday and stayed with them through the night until they made it into the port early this morning.
Democratic California Reps. Nanette Barragán and Jimmy Gomez attempted to gain access to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry with a group of 15 asylum seekers but were told officials only had the capacity to process eight unaccompanied children and the rest would have to go to another port of entry, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
On Twitter, the representatives shared updates on the progress of the asylum seekers. Barragán and Gomez, both of whom represent the Los Angeles area, tweeted that CBP officials told the remaining asylum seekers, which included a mother and her five children, to go to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which is known to have an extensive backlog. Barragán tweeted that CBP sent officers in “full riot gear” to surround the group, even though members of the group reportedly sat down to show they weren’t “rushing” the border. Members of her staff were also detained, she said.
After 7 p.m. PT, CBP tweeted that families “without proper documentation and crossing US borders illegally” caused them to “hit capacity.” Barragán said their requests to see the facility and the “capacity” issue were denied as they waited with the group through the night.
After 15 hours of waiting with the group, Gomez tweeted that he and Barragán left the Port of Entry and that “most” of the group had been taken in.
A CBP spokeswoman told the Union-Tribune that “limited resources and a variety of factors” influence how much space ports of entry have to process asylum seekers.
According to the paper, the legal aid group Al Otro Lado organized the group of 15, selected for how vulnerable they were waiting in Tijuana. A group of attorneys, law students, and other volunteers accompanied the group outside the port, forming a human shield around the migrants to prevent immigration officials from forcing them to cross back into Mexico.
Among the group was a Honduran woman named Maria, who was photographed by Reuters running away from tear gas with her two young children, both in diapers, last month. After seven hours with the group, Gomez tweeted that Maria and her children were accepted into the port of entry and applied for asylum after waiting outside the port.
Gomez and Barragán’s overnight vigil makes them the latest public officials to draw attention to the conditions at the border. Over the summer, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley went live on Facebook as he was denied access to a Texas facility where children separated from their parents were being held as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.
However, for all the runaround CBP gave these elected officials, it seems Barragán and Merkley were able to help the group move forward. As immigration attorney R. Andrew Free pointed out on Twitter, earlier this month Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, of Washington, was also able to successfully accompany asylum seekers. She later tweeted that she intervened after two unaccompanied minors, a mother and child, and a young man were initially denied entrance to apply for asylum—more evidence that having a vocal advocate on your side matters a great deal.
Correction, 1:39 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the group was trying to reach U.S. soil when in fact they were already in the country seeking asylum through a port of entry. The time of CBP’s tweet has also been clarified to reflect the time zone.