Rep. Pramila Jayapal met Saturday with asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, who are running up against strict new Trump administration policies, saying she is determined to tell the truth about what is happening on the U.S.-Mexico border as she and fellow Democrats prepare to launch an investigation early next year.
“We just have to counter the lies of the president in telling about what’s happening here on the border,” the Washington Democrat said Saturday evening. “This is not an infiltration by criminals — this is people seeking the American Dream, and we should be processing them and we should be allowing them to come in.”
Jayapal, a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and one of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s immigration policies, visited several shelters where members of a migrant “caravan” are being housed as they wait for their claims to be processed amid large backlogs. The border crossing linking Tijuana with San Diego saw major clashes last weekend between asylum seekers trying to enter the U.S. and border guards who blocked their way.
More than a third of the members of the caravan are women and children, according to numbers provided by the city of Tijuana. Those figures stand in stark contrast to how Trump has described migrant caravans, characterizing them as mostly comprising dangerous single men.
Jayapal said most of the people she spoke with were from Honduras, which is one of several Central American countries with high levels of gang violence. She described several conversations with migrants who had left dangerous situations back home, including a pregnant woman who had left her 3-year-old child behind, a 17-year-old boy who had been shot in both knees, and a mother of three whose partner had been murdered.
“The stories I’ve heard are just so horrific, people seeing tremendous violence,” said Jayapal, whose district includes most of Seattle.
The Trump administration has come under heavy criticism, mostly from Democrats, for using aggressive methods at the border as it tries to turn migrants away. Earlier this week, Trump defended the use of tear gas by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents against migrants advancing at the San Ysidro crossing — and even threatened to shut down the border if the asylum seekers didn’t retreat.
“We’ve just said, look, if they come over here, we’re going to apprehend them and we’re going to close the border,” Trump told reporters on the way to a political rally Monday. “That’s not really been done to the extent that I’m doing because I mean it, and I’ll close it for a long time.”
Last month, the president signed a proclamation barring migrants who cross into the country illegally through the southern border from seeking asylum, although a federal judge has since blocked the rule.
Applications for asylum in the U.S. have skyrocketed in recent years, but critics say the administration could be doing more to process claims faster.
“The crisis that has been frankly created by the Trump administration has shut down the legal processes to process people,” Jayapal said.
Jayapal is on the House Judiciary Committee, where Democratic leaders are gearing up to investigate Trump’s approach to immigration once they assume the majority in the House in January. Judiciary and the House Oversight Committee are expected to examine Trump’s family separation policy and his use of troops at the border, among other policy moves.
“I firmly believe the U.S. is in violation of our human rights obligations and our domestic legal obligations,” Jayapal said. “We have to go back to being a country that has always made refuge-seeking bipartisan.”