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Democratic lawmakers tour Alamogordo border facility


New Mexico Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small spoke at a news conference after leading a delegation of lawmakers on a fact-finding tour of Border Patrol holding facilities in Alamogordo. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

ALAMOGORDO – New Mexico Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small led a delegation of federal lawmakers on a tour of Border Patrol holding facilities where an 8-year-old boy spent the final hours of his life.

“We have a serious situation here and we are continuing our fact-finding,” said Rep. Torres Small during a news conference after the group of Democratic lawmakers viewed conditions at a Border Patrol station in Alamogordo on Monday.

Their visit comes following the death of a second migrant child in New Mexico  in Border Patrol Custody in less than a month. Felipe Alonzo Gomez died on Christmas Eve.  Seven-year-old Jakeline Caal, also from Guatemala, died December eighth.

“We’ve seen some improvements,” Torres Small said, noting the group met with a doctor at the Border Patrol station.  Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirsjten Nielsen ordered health screening for all children in custody at the end of December following the children’s deaths.

“We still need to have medical equipment in all of our facilities in the most rural reaches of the border to make sure that we have a border patrol that is responding to the changing circumstances that we’re seeing,” said Torres Small.

Border Patrol has been coping with a spike in the number of Central American families seeking asylum who are turning themselves in rather than trying to sneak into the country.

“There is a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, and the policies of the Trump administration are making the crisis more tragic,” said Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Castro said by limiting the number of people who can enter the country at official ports of entry the Trump administration was “encouraging and incentivizing desperate people who are fleeing violence and oppression to go around to more remote and rural areas of the border.”

The delegation included nine members of Congress and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who said he wanted the new Border Patrol medical policies to be developed quickly with “full transparency and engagement with Congress.”

“We hope to see the Trump administration end its war on migrant children,” Sen. Merkley said.

President Donald Trump announced Monday in a tweet he would give a prime time address to the nation Tuesday “on the Humanitarian and National Security Crisis on our Southern Border” and planned to visit the Texas border Thursday.

The effort to make a public case for the border wall comes amid a partial government shutdown over the president’s demand Congress approve $5.7 billion to build the barrier.

“I would like to see security that keeps people out,” said Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, a Republican. He supports the president’s border wall. “We’re being out smarted, outgunned and outplayed by the cartel,” said Griffin who interrupted the news conference, asking lawmakers “What about the cartel?” Griffin said cartel human smugglers are profiting off an “unsecured border.”

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said the border barrier in her district in El Paso did not stop the 8-year-old boy who died in Border Patrol custody and his father from crossing into Texas.

“The walls that we have now are built on American soil,” said Escobar. The father and son turned themselves into Border Patrol agents after they stepped foot in the U.S.

“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,” said Escobar.

During their New Mexico visit, Democratic lawmakers expressed concern about President Trump’s assertion he could declare a national emergency and build the wall using the military.

“We would certainly oppose any attempt by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant to say he can appropriate money without Congress,” said Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“That is perhaps the most dangerous thing he is talking about since he became president,” Rep. Nadler said.