Two Syrian refugee families reached the Texas border Tuesday from Mexico, seeking political asylum in Laredo, while five young Syrian men were detained in Honduras, attempting to reach the U.S., two events that further roiled the national debate about how to deal with Syrian refugees.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed a report originated by the conservative outlet Breitbart that Syrian refugees had reached Laredo.
“DHS confirms that on Tuesday, members of two Syrian families, two men, two women and four children, presented themselves at a port of entry in Laredo,” said Homeland Security press secretary Marsha Catron.
Taken into custody by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection forces, they were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“The two adult women and four children were transferred to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The two men from these families are being held at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas,” said the statement, which added that “due to privacy issues” there would not be any additional information “at this time.”
Before the DHS statement, Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted “Eight Syrians were just caught on the southern border trying to get into the U.S. ISIS maybe? I told you so. WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: “THIS is why Texas is vigilant about Syrian refugees.”
But U.S. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Austin, the sponsor of the bill the House approved Thursday to screen Syrian and Iraqi refugees wanting to enter the U.S., took a more measured approach.
In an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, McCaul said, “When I speak of this issue, I try to be responsible.”
“These are refugees, a Syrian refugee family that went to the Laredo port of entry, my state, and basically turned themselves in for political asylum. They were not infiltrating to conduct terrorist operations. I think it’s important, you’re right, to keep the facts to the facts,” he said.
Although he did not directly refer to the Honduran situation, McCaul said, “Some of these military age males could present a threat to the United States. All we’re asking for is a proper vetting. “
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who is very involved in border issues, said in a statement, “Honduran police stopped and detained five Syrians trying to enter the Central American nation illegally. According to a spokesman for the Honduran Police Investigation Unit, there is reason to believe these young men were going to try to illegally travel to the United States. While there is no evidence, as of today, that these men have ties to terrorism, this shows the important role our friends south of the border play in keeping our own nation safe.”
Cuellar confirmed the detention of the Syrian families in Laredo but did not provide further details.
The Syrians turned themselves over to authorities in Texas one day after the Border Patrol in Arizona caught five Pakistanis and an Afghan trying to sneak into the country. The six were apprehended along with two smugglers accompanying the group near the Arizona town of Sonoita.
The Border Patrol said in a statement that it “checked their identities against numerous law enforcement and national security related databases” and found no “derogatory information” about the individuals. They remain in federal custody.
However, the recent arrivals appear to stand a reasonable chance of staying in the country, at least for a little while. Immigrants from countries other than Mexico or Canada cannot be quickly repatriated and are often detained for at least a few days after crossing.
Plus, asylum seekers who pass the initial credible fear interview, the first step in the asylum process, are often released from custody to await a court hearing. Currently, a backlog of more than 450,000 cases is pending in federal immigration courts.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.