House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Screenshot: cspan/Twitter

Asked about the horrific photo of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria which made headlines earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that entering the U.S. shouldn’t be a crime.

Pelosi bowed her head for nearly half a minute as a reporter asked her about the photo of the father and daughter after they drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river, going on to say that the deaths of the family wasn’t a question of blame, but of politicians understanding the consequences of immigration policy. “I just think it’s such a shame for that to be the face of America around the world,” Pelosi said.

She went on to relate the deaths of the family to the practice of metering at the border, the “Remain in Mexico” policy requiring people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for months before they’re allowed to present themselves to the U.S. According to the Associated Press, the father began taking his family across the river because he was “frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S.”

“It shouldn’t be a crime to have a status violation. If somebody commits a crime or is guilty of a crime, prosecutorial discretion would warrant or justify that they be sent away,” Pelosi said. “But if you overstay your visa or you’re coming in as this family would have been coming in...enlarge the issue. Weigh the equities.”

Advertisement

Although Pelosi said earlier this week that “status violations” shouldn’t be cause for deportations, her comments on Thursday are some of the strongest denunciations of current immigration policy that the top House Democrat has offered to date. It comes a day after a Democratic presidential debate in which former HUD Secretary Julián Castro proposed changing the law to make unlawful entry into the country a civil violation rather than a crime.

Advertisement

“We’re talking about human lives, and let’s just subject people to the laws, but we also have to recognize that everybody in America has rights,” Pelosi continued. “But you just cannot say—and there’s a disagreement—that anybody coming across the border is breaking the law. Not until there’s been a determination to whether they can stay or not, but just because they’re coming across the border they don’t.”

Still, however, Pelosi reiterated her opposition to an open border policy, and attempted to dissuade those fears by saying the border needed to be protected and that non-citizens who are found guilty of violating the law should be deported, directing her comments toward people attempting to present themselves for asylum.

Advertisement

“We don’t have to undermine who we are as a country by saying it’s a crime to engage in an internationally recognized opportunity to make your case, to come into a country, any country,” Pelosi said.