As President Trump announced Monday that he will make a public pitch for his border wall, Democratic lawmakers toured a U.S. Border Patrol station where a Guatemalan boy had been held before he died last month in federal custody.
Trump said he will address the nation Tuesday night and visit the border Thursday, as the government shutdown over wall funding stretched into its third week. Trump tweeted that there is a “Humanitarian and National Security crisis” at the border.
But Democratic lawmakers standing outside a razor-wire-topped Border Patrol station in Alamogordo, N.M., said illegal border crossings are nowhere near the levels that would warrant a national emergency.
The delegation — led by Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico — accused the president of manufacturing a crisis by endangering migrant families attempting to seek asylum in the United States. They said the Trump administration’s policies are giving families two impossible choices: to wait in crime-ridden border cities in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum, or cross illegally in remote areas into the United States.
“The only emergency at the border is a humanitarian emergency caused by this war on children,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, standing beside other lawmakers. “The fact is the number of migrants crossing the border is way down.”
Border apprehensions are at their lowest levels in decades, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. About 400,000 migrants were apprehended in fiscal 2018, down from more than 1.6 million in 2000.
But the number of families attempting to cross is at a record high, igniting a humanitarian crisis because U.S. border facilities were not built to house children such as Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8. Officials detained the boy and his father in Alamogordo and other facilities before he died at a hospital of still-undetermined causes.
He was the second child to die last month in federal custody. Earlier, 7-year-old Jakeline Caal, also from Guatemala, died soon after being apprehended crossing the border with her father. CBP initially said her death was from shock and dehydration. Both deaths are under investigation.
Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, worried that the president would attempt to bypass Congress to “single-handedly” build the wall.
“We would challenge it in every single way that we could in Congress, in the courts and otherwise, and I hope that the president will take a different path,” said Castro, whose twin brother, Julián, former housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration, is expected to announce a 2020 bid for president Saturday.
Castro had earlier launched an inquiry into Jakelin’s death and called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to resign.
Nadler added that he was concerned that Trump would mislead the public about the need for a border wall Tuesday. He said the administration has suggested that thousands of terrorists have been caught attempting to cross the southern border, but he and others have said there is no evidence of that.
“I expect the president to lie to the American people,” Nadler said. “Why do I expect this? Because he has been lying to the American people.”
Lawmakers said they had few answers about the deaths of Felipe and Jakelin. The delegation said a physician and other officials assured them that CBP is developing new medical standards for detaining families but warned that the facilities are not staffed or equipped to house families.
“No American would be proud of the way that we’re treating these folks,” Castro said.
Also in the delegation were Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Reps. David N. Cicilline (R.I.), Veronica Escobar (Tex.), and Grace F. Napolitano, Nanette Barragán and Salud Carbajal, all of California.