Omar, who fled civil war in Somalia as a child, said she empathized with the children at the Carrizo Springs facility in Texas and the decision their parents made to send them on a dangerous journey from Central America for the promise of a better life in the United States.
“For me, it took me back to being a young kid, just like themselves,” Omar, D-Minn., said Friday after visiting the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facility that houses hundreds of teenaged boys who crossed the southern border for asylum.
“I myself was a child who fled, like these kids, unconscionable violence,” Omar said.
Omar, who left Somalia at age 8 and eventually settled in the United States, pushed back on questions on why the Biden administration just can’t stop the surge of migrants from coming. Or why the White House doesn’t have better “messaging” to tell “these families to be responsible and to not put their kids through the horrendous journeys that they’re putting their children through.”
The progressive Squad member said there’s a “crisis” happening in neighboring countries that has left parents with little choice. She compared the Central American parents to her father who she said also had to make the life-or-death decision to flee when she was a child.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – AUGUST 11: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks with media gathered outside Mercado Central on August 11, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Omar is hoping to retain her seat as the representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in today’s primary election. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
“He was making a decision for me to live,” Omar said. “That was the most reasonable and responsible thing a parent could have done. And so I know that for the parents that have made the decision to have their kids take on this journey [they] are making a responsible decision because they want their kids to live.”
Omar was at the border with a delegation of six other Democratic members of Congress, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. They toured a shelter for unaccompanied minors who are awaiting to be transferred to the home of a family sponsor in the United States as their asylum cases are processed in the courts.
This shelter is run through HHS and is designed for children. It’s different than the overcrowded Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities that are supposed to be just for processing children in under 72 hours, but have turned into crowded holding pens due to the surge of migrants seeking entry into the United States.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican senators, led by Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, shared pictures of the shocking conditions inside these CBP facilities as they also toured the southern border on Friday.
Castro acknowledged that the images of the CBP facilities are “horrendous” but said the kids-only HHS facility he visited is at least “better.” The goal, he said, is finding ways to speed up the asylum-seeking process so kids can get out of federal custody and into homes much quicker.
“I think all of us would agree that the pictures that we’ve seen at the CBP facilities, as they’ve often been — now in the past — are horrendous, and that nobody should be kept in those conditions,” Castro said. “Those are awful conditions. Even these [HHS] facilities that have better conditions than the CBP processing centers are not the places for kids. Kids should be moved quickly along to their family sponsors.”
The Democrats did not cast any blame on the Biden administration for the influx of migrants who are overcrowding the system, but instead blamed former President Donald Trump for a broken immigration system and a dismantled infrastructure for processing asylum-seekers. They said it will take some time to address the root problems in Central America and to build up the system and capacity to process the asylum-seekers claims.
Omar said the former Trump administration believed “you had to create maximum pain in order for immigrants not to come to our border” whereas the Biden White House is transitioning to a strategy of “maximum humanity and dignity.”