By Manuel Ocaño
María Meza, the woman in the viral picture of a mother running with two of her children from tear gas launched by Border Patrol into Tijuana, has finally been conditionally released in San Diego with all four of her minor children.
Meza was released Friday night in San Ysidro to her lawyer, with an ankle bracelet on, 26 days after the picture was taken of her and her two little girls running from the gas near the spot where the train crossing is, east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
The image of Maria and her twin five-year-old girls led to thousands of outcries, including that of California Governor Gavin Newsom, who said while in Otay that throwing gases at mothers and children seeking asylum while they are still in a foreign country is “not the United States we want.”
Meza managed to get away from the tear gas with her daughters, Cheili and Saira. Prior to her entering the U.S., she had stated that on the afternoon of Nov. 25, when the tear gas incident occurred, “we thought we would cross the border, but we never thought we would be shot at.” When she realized they were in fact shooting tear gas into Tijuana, she said “I felt very sad. I took my daughters’ hands to turn away, and that was when the gas landed very close,” and the three ran to safety.
The picture made the front pages of most printed and online newspapers, and even live newscasts complemented their video coverage with the image of Maria Meza and her daughters. She was the first caravan member to get so much coverage.
Meza and her children were also the first family from the caravan to be allowed to cross through the Otay Port of Entry, where – until then – Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had disallowed entry to migrants seeking to turn themselves in for asylum.
According to attorney Nicole Ramos of the non-profit Al Otro Lado, on Dec. 18, Meza and her children approached the Otay Mesa Port of entry, where they waited for nearly eight hours for CBP officers in riot gear to allow them in so they could turn themselves in and petition for asylum.
“Every so often, one or another of the children would cry because they were tired of staying in one spot, but the family stayed to demand their right for their argument for asylum to be heard,” said Ramos.
Two Democratic members of the U.S. Congress who were in Tijuana that day to speak with deportees, Nanette Diaz Barragan y Jimmy Gomez, both from California, went to the Otay Mesa POE in favor of Mesa’s petition.
For several hours, Border Patrol insisted that the Meza family could not be allowed in to petition for asylum because the facilities were at full capacity serving the public; i.e., the crossing was full and had no space available.
However, as night fell, the Honduran family was finally allowed in to request asylum. They were held for three days before being conditionally released on Friday. At the time, their attorneys did not disclose what the next steps would be in the process.