EL PASO, Texas (CN) – Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker escorted five migrants Wednesday across a bridge from Mexico into El Paso to show support for Central American asylum seekers that the Trump administration is trying to keep out of the country.
The New Jersey senator walked across the Paso Del Norte Bridge from Juarez with the unidentified women, who hid their faces with notebooks and envelopes. Booker told reporters outside the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint that “these women have really horrific stories … they are survivors of sexual violence, of attacks” in their countries of origin.
Booker believes the ladies’ asylum claims are “legitimate” and they deserve to be heard in an American court.
“They have legitimate fears,” he said. “This policy that we have is pushing people who are already vulnerable, who are already targeted, back into a dangerous situation. The stories of the violence they have endured are heartbreaking and unacceptable.”
Booker said several of the women have been previously detained in the United States, saying their stories echo findings Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General that migrants are being held in squalid and unsanitary conditions. Government inspectors concluded some cells were so crowded that adults were forced to stand for days, while some migrants attempted to escape or intentionally clogged toilets to be released from cells for maintenance work. Many held migrants were forced to wear soiled clothing for days or weeks.
“The conditions are an insult to human dignity,” he said. “In my opinion, it is a violation of the values of our nation and should not be tolerated at all.”
Booker was accompanied by a group of El Paso-based immigration attorneys. They met with immigrants for several hours at the Mexican government-run Centro de Atencion immigrant aid center at the foot of the bridge before crossing into El Paso.
Attorney Linda Rivas, with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, said Booker’s support of her immigrant clients “as a senator” is “pretty powerful support.”
Booker has been a staunch opponent of the Trump administration’s recently-enacted Migrant Protection Protocols, which forces asylum seekers to be sent back into Mexico to await asylum hearings in the United States.
“These are folks who should not be subjected to that because of their fear, the attacks they have endured and because of their LGBTQ status” Booker said. “This crisis that we are seeing is because Donald Trump took executive action … he has done numerous things that violate our values, that makes us less safe, undermines our human rights and ultimately costs us more taxpayer dollars.”
The crossing comes one day after Booker unveiled his immigration policy, which relies heavily on executive orders that bypass the need for congressional agreement on an immigration deal that has yet to materialize. Booker’s plan includes a mandate for minimum standards at immigration jails and the shifting away from criminal prosecution for illegal border crossings.
Booker said that, if elected, he would order the Department of Homeland Security to stop raiding schools, churches and courthouses and would end the current ban on travel to the United States by citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries.
Booker’s polling remains mired in the single digits as he jockeys with over two dozen others for his party’s nomination. He trails at least five of his rivals, led by former Vice President Joe Biden, but has pushed forward after a strong performance in the first primary debate last week.