January 09, 2019

Members of Congress: Systemic Failures Also Contributed to Felipe Gomez Alonzo’s Death

ALAMOGORDO, NEW MEXICO—Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), led a congressional delegation to Alamogordo Border Patrol Station to investigate the circumstances surrounding Felipe Gomez Alonzo’s death. He was joined by Congresswoman Xotchil Torres Small (NM-02); Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR); House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), House Democratic Policy and Communications Chair David Cicilline (RI-01), Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44); Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24); and CHC Freshman Representative Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16). Following their investigation of Felipe’s journey, the Members briefed the press on how these stations are equipped to protect the health and safety of those seeking refuge at our borders:

Highlights from their press conference:

Chairman Joaquin Castro (TX-20): Today’s visit reaffirmed the fact that the federal government, under the Trump Administration, still has a long way to go in making sure that migrants are treated humanely. That there is proper medical care—personnel, equipment, staff, supplies, all of it—to treat migrants who encounter medical emergencies. It’s true not just for the migrants themselves, but also for the Border Patrol agents—federal employees, employees of the United States government—who are patrolling the border.

“It would be profoundly inappropriate for the President of the United States to circumvent the legislative branch of the United States government, the United States Congress, and singlehandedly, against the will of the American people and the American Congress, put up a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. 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. That remains to be seen.”

Congresswoman Xotchil Torres Small (NM-02): What I'm most concerned about as I start to see folks coming to the border to offer their medical advice, to start making changes within the agency, is to make sure those changes happen quickly, to make sure there’s an open dialogue with Congress so that we know which needs exist and how we can best work together to fulfill them, and to make sure that there is follow through in those recommendations. I’ve heard too many stories about agents who have reported poor working conditions, to have recommendations made only to see them not followed through.”

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR): We’ve seen this war on migrant children manifested in so many different ways...In fact, just last week the administration was again calling for an expansion of family internment camps saying said we should lock children up with their parents. This is wrong. Children belong in schools, and homes, and parks, not behind barbed wire as they await their asylum hearings. We have seen children turned away at ports of entry, where the President says they need to come. And sent back into Mexico. At great risk of gang activity and just really having very little support at all.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10): “We know that the President has been talking about the emergency at the border. The only emergency at the border is a humanitarian emergency caused by this war on children. The fact of the matter is that the number of apprehensions, the number of migrants crossing the border, is way down over the last few years, is not an emergency of that nature.

“Lastly, the President has announced that he’s going to address the country [tonight] on the so-called crisis at the border. I expect the President to lie to the American people. Why do I expect this? Because he has been lying to the American people and his spokespersons continue to lie to the American people... As Congressman Castro said, the President has no authority to usurp congressional authority of the purse. Congress must appropriate funds. He cannot simply take funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall because he declares a national emergency. The courts should not permit it, and I do not believe the courts will permit it. And we would certainly oppose any attempt by the President to make himself a king and a tyrant by saying he can appropriate money without Congress. That is perhaps the most dangerous thing he is talking about since he became President.”

House Democratic Policy and Communications Chair David Cicilline (RI-01): “This is a humanitarian crisis. This is not a national security crisis. The President is attempting to use this to make some argument about the safety of the American people. It’s just not true. The vast majority of people who are coming to this, who are apprehended and brought to this facility, are seeking asylum. It’s important to remember asylum is the crown jewel of our immigration law. It allows people who are fleeing war and persecution and famine to come and seek refuge in the United States. That’s the vast majority of people who are coming here, who are making that request. We ought to be making sure that they are processed quickly and their claims adjudicated fairly.”

Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44): “One thing is very clear: we were unable to get answers to [Felipe]’s specific case. What we heard today instead were generalities of changes that are being made since his death. First, it’s unfortunate, and really unacceptable, that it took two deaths for Homeland Security and the Secretary to step up, to put into place new procedures on the medical front. One of the most surprising things I heard today, given what is happening at ports of entry, was to hear Border Patrol say that the medical review process is better if you go through a port of entry.

“Now let me tell you folks: I was at a port of entry at Otay Mesa several weeks ago when Maria, the woman who was photographed from the teargas, tried to present herself at the port of entry with her family and saw firsthand CBP officers effectively turn her away. Tried to get her to go to another port of entry as Mexican Federales and immigration were standing by. And that is with Members of Congress present—we saw it happening.”

Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24): “It’s clear that this President's policies have exacerbated humanitarian crisis. We are here today because we had two tragic deaths, two children that died in CBP custody. We learned that up until recently, there was inadequate health care at these facilities. That up until today, there is not a contingency plan to make sure that the individuals being detained are getting adequate food. We also learned that the left hand and the right hand of this Administration don’t know what they are doing.”

CHC Freshman Representative Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16): “One of the more frustrating aspects for those of us who live and grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border, is to hear people who’ve never even been here purport to be experts on Border Security, purport to be experts on what is happening here. Unless you have been here, unless you have actually talked to people, and that means not just law enforcement, that means also NGOs and the people on the ground, human rights advocates, legal advocates, who have been doing this work for decades, who can provide good perspective and context about what’s going on. Unless you do that—and that takes time and that takes work and that takes being here—unless you do that, you cannot say you have the answer on border security. You cannot say that you know what is happening on the Southern border.”

You can watch a full video of the press conference here.

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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), founded in December 1976, is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.