During her appearance at the White House press briefing Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeatedly encouraged immigrants to avoid breaking immigration law by claiming asylum at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. A reporter chimed in with a counterpoint.
"People are being turned away from ports of entries, Madam Secretary," a reporter shouted.
"That actually is incorrect," Nielsen responded. "We have limited resources, we have multiple missions at CBP, and what we do is, based on the very high standard we have, if we do not have enough bed space, if we do not have enough medical personnel on staff, if we do not have enough caretakers on staff, then we tell people that come to the border they need to come back. We are not turning them away, we are saying, 'We want to take care of you in the right way, right now we do not have the resources at this particular moment in time, come back."
Last week, The Washington Post reported on a father and son who had tried nine times in nine days to get to a port of entry in El Paso, Texas, and apply for asylum. They were turned away each time.
And their story isn't unique. Customs and Border Protection officials have reportedly been turning people around for weeks, telling them they can't currently apply for asylum because the port of entry is at capacity.
According to the Post, some immigration lawyers say CBP is obligated to process anyone who seeks asylum protection and that telling them to come back later is illegal. But CBP uses the same defense Nielsen used.
Regardless of whether officials are calling it "turning them away" or "telling them to come back later," some families aren't being allowed to apply for asylum at ports of entry, and crossing the border elsewhere could mean detention, prosecution and even separation from their kids.