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Honduran mom and children in viral tear gas photo allowed entry to US

Posted at 6:44 AM, Dec 18, 2018

Maria Lila Meza Castro -- the mother photographed running with her children away from tear gas at the US-Mexico Border in November -- was permitted into the US late Monday night, Sandra Cordero with Families Belong Together told CNN.

Meza Castro and her children were initially denied entry Monday afternoon at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry along the Mexico/California border due to capacity issues, according to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson.

US Congressman Jimmy Gomez tweeted the family is on American soil and has filed for asylum.

"After 7hrs, I can now confirm: Maria Meza & her kids — featured in this @Reuters image fleeing tear gas at the border last month — just filed for asylum. They're on American soil. @RepBarragan & I are still here observing conditions on the ground. #RefugeesWelcome," his tweet read.

Earlier in the day, CBP allowed eight unaccompanied minors entry after they waited several hours. They were a part of a group of 15 people that included Meza Castro.

The group of migrants was escorted by California Democratic Reps. Gomez and Nanette Barragan and organizations that included Families Belong Together.

The congressional delegation of two crossed into Mexico late Monday morning and had planned to spend most of the day visiting shelters housing Central American migrants after a planned visit to the port of entry. The organized "turn in" at the port of entry, however, never happened as CBP denied entry to the group when they arrived at the port of entry in the early afternoon. The lawmakers and Cordero had vowed to stay until everyone from the group gets in.

"As members of the Homeland Security Committee we came here to observe the asylum process. In congressional hearings we are told by CBP directors that minors and those most vulnerable can turn themselves in at any port of entry. Yet here we are with 15 migrants -- 13 of them children -- and they will not let them in," Barragan told CNN by phone.

Documenting migrants' conditions

Members of Congress have been asked by several pro-immigrant groups to travel to the border to document the conditions of the migrants while they wait weeks and sometimes months for their turn to cross into the US to ask for asylum.

In a press release, Families Belong Together, one of the groups involved, accused the Trump administration of deliberately slowing down the border processing, forcing migrants into a months-long wait and putting their lives at risk.

"There are children freezing here. They [CBP] have now sent officers in SWAT gear to intimidate us. It is sad to think that these children are just left out here in the cold in US soil," Barragan said.

In a tweet late Monday, Barragan said, "CBP still refusing to show us inside Otay Mesa facility. We would love to see the full capacity they keep citing."

A spokesperson for CBP provided CNN with a statement that read in part, "This past year, CBP experienced a 121 percent increase in the number of asylum seekers we processed at our ports of entry, and overall CBP processed almost 93,000 claims of fear in fiscal year 2018. ... As we have done for several years, when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities."

Barragan and Gomez have asked CBP officials on the ground for permission to go inside and see for themselves that the facility is at capacity but continue to be denied entry, they said.

"We are going to find out if they have the capacity one way or another, even if that means we need to ask for the records for this particular day from the oversight committee," Barragan said.

On Tuesday, another congressional group is expected to visit the CBP station in New Mexico where a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died .