California member lambasts Nielsen over separations and asylum

California member lambasts Nielsen over separations and asylum
© Greg Nash

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) rebuked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Trump admin program sends asylum-seekers to await claims in Mexico, despite fears of violence: report MORE on Wednesday over the administration's application of asylum laws.

Barragán questioned Nielsen's claim that asylum-seekers are not turned away at ports of entry.

"They are not turned away," responded Nielsen.

Barragán then told Nielsen of an incident she witnessed crossing the border over the weekend, where a border agent allegedly turned away a Honduran asylum-seeker and his son at a port of entry.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a video shot by Barragán viewed by The Hill, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent detains pedestrian traffic approaching a turnstile at the PedWest San Ysidro Port of Entry until a Mexican private security officer arrives to take away the Honduran migrant.

It's unclear whether the turnstile at PedWest is technically on U.S. soil.

"Let me tell you, madam secretary, either you are lying to this committee or you don't know what's happening at the border," Barragán told Nielsen.

The administration has been accused of slow-walking asylum-seekers at ports of entry, forcing many to attempt illegal crossings at undesignated locations along the border.

Apprehension of border-crossers spiked in February, but the majority of people apprehended voluntarily gave themselves up to Border Patrol agents to claim asylum.

In theory, all foreign nationals on U.S. soil can claim asylum and freely remain in the country until their cases are processed by immigration courts, a process the Trump administration derides as "catch and release."

Barragán then turned to an incident in which she and Rep. Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezLawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech Amazon shareholders vote down limits on facial recognition software The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (D-Calif.) camped at the border with an asylee named Maria in order to get CBP agents to initiate her asylum proceedings.

"Do you know that two members of Congress had to sleep overnight and spend 14 hours in the cold on the concrete at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, so that María — the woman who was teargassed at the port of entry — would be allowed to present herself?" asked Barragán.

"I know that we have a process," responded Nielsen, before Barragán interrupted, "OK, you obviously don't know."

Barragán finally turned to Nielsen's prior testimony on the family separation policy enacted in 2017 by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

"You said that you waited to give direction on the family separation policy because you wanted to do it with compassion. Do you know how outrageous that sounds?" asked Barragán, without waiting for a response from Nielsen.

"You wanted to separate children and families, and you wanted to do it with compassion? So in the meantime you didn't do anything at all and you let kids be separated without tracking them," she added.