U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar left a Texas facility for unaccompanied migrant children Friday reminded of the path that brought her to the country she now serves in Congress.
The Minnesota Democrat said the visit reinforces that politics need to be set aside to prioritize the humanity and dignity of the minors as the Biden administration races to catch up with a rise in unaccompanied teens and children crossing the southern border.
"It took me back to being a young kid just like themselves," Omar, a refugee from Somalia now serving her second term in the U.S. House, said during an afternoon news conference. "I myself was a child who fled, like these kids, unconscionable violence."
Omar was one of seven House Democrats who traveled to Carrizo Springs, Texas, in what delegation lead U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro described on Twitter as "oversight to ensure humane treatment and orderly process to unite kids with families."
The Texas facility includes space for around 950 children between ages 13 and 17, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was used briefly during the Trump administration and reactivated earlier this year.
President Donald Trump pledged to build a border wall with Mexico, and his anti-immigrant rhetoric became one of the defining criticisms from Democrats while the Republican was in office.
The situation on the southern border has become a quickly evolving challenge in the early days of Joe Biden's presidency. The Democrat has emphasized what supporters see as a more humane approach in an attempt to unwind the Trump administration's policies.
What Omar witnessed on Friday led her to reflect that when her "father was making a decision for me at the age of 8 to flee conflict, he was making a decision for me to live."
The parents who set their children on this path, she said, "are making a responsible decision because they want their kids to live, to have an opportunity. And what better place, right, to do that, than the land of opportunity."
Castro said the lawmakers talked to children who came from a range of countries, including Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Many of them have family members in the United States they are trying to find their way to, Castro said, as their asylum claims get sorted out.
"I think all of us would agree that the pictures that we've seen at the [Customs and Border Protection] facilities, as they've often been now and in the past, are horrendous, and that nobody should be kept in those conditions," Castro said. "Those are awful conditions. That even these facilities, that have better conditions than the processing centers, are not the places for kids, that kids should be moved quickly along to their family sponsors."
A group of Republican senators also visited Texas on Friday, with GOP lawmakers criticizing Biden this week for his approach to immigration and handling of the situation at the border.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said during a news conference before the visit that "we know for sure what not to do is what the Biden administration is doing now."
"It's an absolute crisis and disaster," Cruz said.
But during Friday's news conference, Omar pointed to Biden and others working to "address a problem that was created by an administration that believed you had to create maximum pain in order for immigrants not to come to our border."
"And so when you have an administration now that says, we are going to deploy maximum humanity and dignity in treating people in regards to our policies," said Omar, "we are excited because then we see partners in humanity."
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559