(CN) — President Trump’s claims of a national security crisis at the southern border are false, as families entering illegally are turning themselves in to immigration agents and asking for asylum, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Monday at a Border Patrol station in New Mexico.
Led by caucus chairman Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, several Democratic lawmakers visited the station outside Alamogordo on Monday to investigate the death of Felipe Gomez Alonzo.
The 8-year-old Guatemalan, who came to the United States with his father, died of influenza at an Alamogordo hospital on Christmas Eve after spending two nights at the Border Patrol station near the White Sands National Monument.
Trump said Monday that he will deliver a televised speech Tuesday night from the Oval Office about the “humanitarian and national security crisis on our Southern Border,” as a partial government shutdown over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund border wall construction enters its third week.
The United States already has built fencing on 654 miles of the 1,989-mile U.S.-Mexico border, according to a report from Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
Castro and other members of the delegation warned that they will go to court to fight Trump if he tries to declare a national emergency to justify taking funds appropriated for other purposes to expand the wall.
“It would be profoundly inappropriate for the president of the United States to circumvent the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the U.S. Congress, and single-handedly, against the will of the American people, and the American Congress, put up a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border,” Castro told reporters outside the Border Patrol station.
“We would challenge it in every way we could, in Congress, in courts and otherwise. And I hope that the president will take a different path.”
Democrats plan to use their new majority in the House of Representatives to put Trump’s immigration policies under the microscope of committee investigations.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, accompanied the group to New Mexico. He said he expects Trump to lie in his speech Tuesday.
“Why do I expect this? Because he’s been lying to the American people, and his spokespeople continue lying to the American people,” Nadler said.
“Just yesterday, his press secretary said in an interview with [Fox News Sunday anchor] Chris Wallace, that 4,000 terrorists had crossed the border. Chris Wallace pointed out that they had all been apprehended at airports, none at the border.
“There is no security crisis at the border,” Nadler said.
Nadler said that instead of putting asylum-seekers in detention, the Trump administration should appoint more immigration judges to cut down on the backlog of pending asylum cases that has grown to more than 800,000 since Trump took office in January 2017.
Several of the lawmakers criticized the Trump administration’s policy of “metering,” or allowing a just a handful of immigrants into the United States each day to apply for asylum at entry ports.
For example, border experts say the wait time for the thousands of immigrants waiting in Tijuana to file asylum applications at ports of entry in Southern California is estimated at 3 months
Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-California, said at the news conference that a Border Patrol agent told her during the visit to the Alamogordo station that the medical review process for immigrants is better if they enter through ports of entry.
She said she found the statement “surprising” because she had recently visited the Otay Mesa port of entry in California, where she saw Customs and Border Patrol agents turn away a woman who tried to turn in herself and her children to claim asylum.
“And that is with members of Congress present. We saw it happening. So here you have Border Patrol saying medical review is going to be better if you come in through a port of entry, yet you have the president and this administration effectively turning people away at the ports of entry,” Barragán said.
The lawmakers said the metering policy is leading immigrants to travel to remote areas of the borderlands to enter the United States, and then surrender to Border Patrol agents to speed up the asylum-application process.
“I believe that’s contributing to more serious injuries, and to possibly, in these cases, more death,” Castro said, citing Felipe Gomez Alonzo’s death and the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin.
Caal, also from Guatemala, died from dehydration at an El Paso hospital Dec. 8, shortly after Border Patrol agents arrested her and her father south of Lordsburg, N.M.
The children’s deaths led Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to deploy Coast Guard medics to help emergency medical staff at Border Patrol stations examine immigrants.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said that in many cases, Trump’s wall would not solve any problems. In her hometown El Paso, for instance, border walls are on U.S. soil, north of the actual border. Under U.S. law, once immigrants set foot on U.S. soil they have the right to ask for asylum.
“So when you hear the president say that a wall is going to solve the challenges we have on the southern border, it is a lie,” Escobar said. “Because no matter where the wall goes, it will not be right on the border. And families fleeing persecution and poverty and violence are going to present themselves on American soil.”
She continued: “We heard today, one of the questions that we asked was, ‘What percentage of people who are being apprehended now are actually presenting themselves to border patrol?’ The response: ‘A large majority.’ The vast majority of the people being apprehended are presenting themselves to border patrol.”
Escobar and fellow freshman lawmaker Sylvia Garcia, of Houston, are the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress.