Diary of a Congresswoman

Mary-Charlotte Domandi:
When we talked a couple of days ago, you were on your way to the US-Mexico border, and we were talking about the role of congressional oversight in seeing what’s going on at the border. You were there on Saturday. Tell us what you saw.
Teresa Leger Fernandez:
The trip to the border was an incredibly impactful visit because it is a very hard story that we need to report on and act on. We need to see firsthand what’s happening, talking to people on the ground. So we had great conversations with advocates. We started off talking to advocates in the morning and then to the shelters that house the children, as they’re on the way to the sponsors, we were at the border itself. And then we spent the most significant time actually in the facility that processes these beautiful, fragile, vulnerable children who are seeking asylum or seeking to reunite with family members in the United States. There were a thousand children in the facility where we spent significant time. So that was a very big thing.
And we were able to be in that facility because we are Congresspeople. We have a job to determine what is needed. The facility we were in was built precisely because Congress had come down in 2019, but Veronica Escobar has been leading delegations down. She always tries to get Republicans. They never go. She finally got a Republican to go with this time. So it was our first bipartisan delegation. Congress did a supplemental last year. So this facility we were in, that at the time were there had a thousand children, was paid precisely out of one of these kinds of visits. There’s lots of privacy issues with the children. But yeah, we were able to see the conditions to talk to the children.
What were the conditions like? What did the children say?
Well, the conditions in this facility, because it was recently built, they have showers, they have these big rooms where they have portable bed things, plastic things that they then put cushions in that the children sleep on with those ugly Mylar blankets. But the children are there. And that’s, I think the important thing to remember is that once the children are there, they are now safe. Whereas the journey they’ve been on is fraught with danger, getting to the CBB is like the moment of safety. They wanted to make sure that parents knew they were safe, the family knew they were safe. They were worried that some of them had not been able to connect with their mother. And so they were crying because they hadn’t been able to let their family know that they were safe because they had been in this journey for so long. And they wanted to make sure their family knew there were safe and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them next. Now we had been briefed that they were, as soon as beds become available in an HHS facility, they move them to that facility. And then there, they move on to what they call the sponsors. So the sponsor for the most part is a family. Somebody who they have the phone number and they’re there to—I asked the children, who are you going to meet here? I’m going to meet my tio, I’m going to meet my uncle, my brother, my mom. They knew who they were there to see in the United States. There was one moment where they had the boys and girls separately, and a girl had a baby, an infant. When you see their supplies, there is a bunch of diapers that they now, you know, these border patrol agents who are supposed to be interdicting, drugs and criminals are making sure that little babies’ diapers are getting changed. And so there’s a little girl and she had her little sister with her. I held her for a while. They’re very young and she just wanted to make sure, the children wanted to make sure that I had their names. So they were all writing in my notebook because they want to make sure that their names were not forgotten. And we told them, we’re not going to forget you. But there needs more of the shelters built. There needs to be a lot of work done. But it’s not stuff that can’t happen. I mean, one of the places we went to is Annunciation House, Casa Refugiados, and they do a marvelous job.
El Paso has been dealing with migrants for decades, and with refugees. They cook for them, people take food to them, they receive donations. We’re going to be posting the link to the Annunciation House. They handle thousands of asylum seekers and migrants a day. And they do it all on the generosity of community. So we will be posting that link so that New Mexicans or anybody listening to this wants to help, they’re doing beautiful work that’s from the heart, that’s from a place of compassionate caring, and respect because these are families. They’re beautiful, beautiful children. The children I spoke to were from Ecuador, but most of them were from Guatemala and Honduras. But yeah, everybody cried. Everybody. The children were crying. The Congresspeople were crying. And they were tears of the tragedy that exists in those home countries that would force their parents to send their children on this perilous journey. That’s what this is. But they are not a threat. You know, somebody asked me, is this a crisis is a threat to America? It’s like, absolutely not. El Paso is functioning just fine. The fact that there are thousands of migrants and it might be a hundred thousand—it might be 10,000, might be 20,000, whatever the number gets to—it is not anything that is going to take down our country. These are children and families and they are not going to negatively impact our economy or our country in any way.