Shutdown Showdown: Rep. Nanette Barragán on Dire Conditions at Border and Trump’s “Ineffective” Wall

Web ExclusiveDecember 21, 2018
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Part 2 of our conversation with California Rep. Nanette Barragán, who is just back from the U.S.-Mexico border. Barragán, along with Rep. Jimmy Gomez, escorted a 39-year-old Honduran mother of five, Maria Meza, across the border. Earlier this month, Meza was photographed clinging to her children and fleeing tear gas fired by U.S. Border Patrol, in an iconic Reuters image that sparked international outrage. Their asylum request is now being processed. Barragán recounts camping out overnight with Meza’s family on the U.S. side of the border near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry between Tijuana and San Diego and overhearing a U.S. border guard say, “Oh, good, we got rid of one of them,” as she left.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation with California Democratic Congressmember Nanette Barragán, who earlier this week went down to the U.S.-Mexico border advocating on behalf of Maria Meza. She’s the 39-year-old Honduran mother who made international headlines after being photographed last month fleeing tear gas fired by border guards. Maria Meza and her children are now in the U.S., and their asylum application is being processed, but only due to the efforts of Congressmembers Barragán and Jimmy Gomez, who camped with her and her family and other migrants on the U.S. side of the border near Otay Mesa Port of Entry between Tijuana and San Diego.

Congressmember Nanette Barragán, thanks so much for staying with us for Part 2 of this conversation. I wanted to clarify one thing: This photograph, that has gone viral, of Maria with her two girls, are these two little girls twins?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: They are. They are so adorable. When we sat there waiting for hours on end, we started singing songs together. And just so your viewers know, she has five children. Those are just two of her children.

AMY GOODMAN: And they are 4, 5 years old?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: They’re 4 years old, absolutely, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And did Maria describe to you that moment of the tear gassing, what was happening and what she did?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Well, I did have a chance to meet with her before we went down to the border. Didn’t want to ask her too much. You could tell there was still, you know, trauma and fear, and she was about to go back to the border, not really knowing what will happen. So, we didn’t talk too much about it. She certainly looked a little timid, a little concerned. But we—you know, her lawyers were with her. And everybody reassured her that we were going to be with her, that she wouldn’t be alone. And it was great to be able to walk with her to present herself for asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go to Maria Meza herself, describing what happened.

MARIA MEZA: [translated] Well, I felt sad, scared and wanting to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and started running. At that moment, I thought I was going to die with them because of the gas. We ran, and we fell into the mud and struggled to get up amidst the gas. A young man gave me his hand and pulled me up to my feet. I wasn’t expecting it. We never thought they were going to fire these bombs where there were children. Because there were lots of children, not just mine. There were more children with mothers there. They also started running, too, just like me.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Maria Meza, 39 years old. She has five kids. She was holding her two—you said 5 or 4?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: They’re 4 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: Four-year-old girls, as she was being tear-gassed. Now, on the one hand, she was—I mean, the attention was enormous, the sympathy enormous. But you’ve pointed out there’s also a right-wing campaign that made her very, very afraid, made her a target if she remained in Mexico. And as you pointed out, just this week, two teenage boys were murdered as they awaited coming into the United States.

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Absolutely. When I went to visit with her, I was told by her attorneys that she was being followed by right-wing folks who were targeting her. They had to put her in disguise. They had to move her. Which is why it was so important that you had two members of Congress go down to observe what was about to happen at the port of entry.

We had been hearing reports that people were being turned away at the ports of entry. And I can tell you, Amy, as a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, we’re told all the time that people are encouraged to go to the ports of entry, not to go in between the ports, and if they did that, they could prevent themselves for asylum. That’s not what was happening.

Even worse was we saw the intimidation factors that were being used to discourage people from presenting themselves, everything from officers coming out in riot gear. Maria at one point was told to go to a different port of entry. One of the officers told her in Spanish, if she just went down to San Ysidro, they would take care of her there. But they had Mexican officials waiting for her to step off of U.S. soil. So it was a good thing, because her lawyers immediately said, “No, you’re staying right here. You’re on U.S. soil.”

And basically, they made us wait nine hours in her case. In another family’s case, they made them wait 12 hours, in the cold, with their 3-year-old. Really no regard for them. And it was just—it was pretty incredible to see.

AMY GOODMAN: You stayed with them overnight?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Yeah, I stayed there ’til about 3:00 in the morning. My colleague stayed until about 6 a.m. And, you know, it was freezing cold. At some point, they brought out these steel fences to put up around us. And so, we were really limited to space. We had nowhere to go to the bathroom. The conditions were pretty dire.

AMY GOODMAN: And the border guard saying to you—you’re a U.S. congressmember—saying to you, “It’s capacity. We’re full. We can’t hold her.” You demanded to see, to be able to be brought in to see that they were at capacity. They just disappeared? They wouldn’t let you?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Yeah, he would not let me come in at all. He wouldn’t let either one of the members go in. And we just wanted to see the capacity issue that he kept saying was the problem. At one point, he said he would talk with the supervisor. He left, never came back. And we kept asking, “Do we have an update? Is there anything going on?” It was clear that they were just ignoring us and our requests and going to let us sit there and hoping that we were going to go away.

As a matter of fact, when I did, at 3 a.m., walk across the border through that port of entry, one of the CBP agents, as I was leaving, said, “Oh, good, we got rid of one of them”—referring to one of the members of Congress. And just the arrogance in the attitude was pretty remarkable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the fact that the Trump administration is now saying they could send people back over the border, even as they’re waiting for their appeal, their asylum, does that mean Maria could be sent back over?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Well, she was presented on Monday, Monday night, around 9 p.m. This was just announced. So, I have to think that this is not going to apply to her. But let me tell you, her lawyers are out in full force. Not only that, Congress is going to be pushing back on this. I know members from our side will be pushing back on this.

There’s a lot of immigrant right groups that we’ve been talking to who have expressed concern, not just about the dangers, but about the possible violation of U.S. law. And having the Mexican government responsible for those that are in our immigration system raises a lot of legal issues and concerns. This is not the way the U.S. law was set up to be. And I think there’s a lot of questions on really whether the president can do this. I don’t believe that he can.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to go to the bigger issue of today, what’s happening, the possible government shutdown. Very ironically, you have President Trump first having a fight with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, a public fight in the White House, saying he’s proud to own the shutdown if it happens. It could mean something like 800,000 federal workers will not be paid, including border guards, will be working without pay through Christmas. And he’s saying this to hold the country hostage to his border wall, which he said would be paid by Mexico. But if you can talk about this and what it means? And now he’s saying it’s not a wall, it’s metal slats.

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Yeah, you know, this is the president’s ongoing agenda against immigrants and for his campaign promise for a wall. It’s really ineffective and not a good use of taxpayer dollars. As a member of the committee, I can tell you we have had witnesses come. People have said this is more of a speed bump. It’s not going to solve the problem.

It’s unfortunate the president is proud to have a shutdown. As you mentioned, there’s so many people at stake, people who live paycheck to paycheck, that cannot afford to go without a paycheck. And to do it right before the holidays, really, just a couple of days before the holidays, no regard, as he’s getting ready to fly on his private jet to take a vacation in Florida.

We need to have Congress get together, pass something, which is what we thought we had. I’m really hoping that my colleagues on the other side can talk some sense into this president to avert this shutdown. We’re hearing that this afternoon the Senate will take up the House measure, that includes the $5 billion for a wall. And what we’re hearing is it’s not going to—it’s not going to pass. So, we’re at an impasse. It’s unfortunate this president wants a shutdown, is going to have a shutdown at people’s expense, while he’s out vacationing.

We’re going to continue to be here, to be at the table. There are options that both sides have agreed to that will avert a shutdown. But this president seems pretty adamant in either getting his way and throwing a temper tantrum.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those options?

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Well, the options are—there’s a short-term spending gap that will buy us some time into February. There’s a 1-year option. And so, there are two different options to avert a shutdown.

The Senate passed their version. Everybody thought there was a deal on the table. You know, it wasn’t until outlets like Fox, who were going after the president, does he change his mind and come back and say, “You know what? I’m not going to sign something.” Senators were already leaving. That’s how much we thought we had already an agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nanette Barragán, I know you have to go vote, so we’re going to let you go. I know also, we heard, of course, that President Trump had a conversation with Rush Limbaugh, who was castigating him, Ann Coulter. So, we’ll see what happens.

REP. NANETTE BARRAGÁN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Annette Barragán is a Democratic congressmember from California, member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Earlier this week, she went down to the border and facilitated, with Congressmember Gomez, the passage of Maria Meza and her family, the Honduran mom photographed last month fleeing tear gas fired by U.S. border guards along the U.S.-Mexico border, with her 4-year-old twins.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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