The Honduran woman photographed last month pulling her diaper-clad children from tear gas along the U.S.-Mexico border has applied for asylum in the U.S., Rep. Jimmy Gomez announced on Twitter early Tuesday.
"After 7hrs, I can now confirm: Maria Meza & her kids — featured in this @Reuters image fleeing tear gas at the border last month — just filed for asylum," the California Democrat said on Twitter. "They’re on American soil. @RepBarragan & I are still here observing conditions on the ground."
Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon captured the iconic image of Maria Lila Meza Castro, 39, on Nov. 25 when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired tear gas into a group of migrants near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana.
After 7hrs, I can now confirm:— Rep. Jimmy Gomez (@RepJimmyGomez) December 18, 2018
Maria Meza & her kids — featured in this @Reuters image fleeing tear gas at the border last month — just filed for asylum.
They’re on American soil.@RepBarragan & I are still here observing conditions on the ground. #RefugeesWelcome @fams2gether pic.twitter.com/t8cEDRtGIQ
After the incident, Meza told BuzzFeed News that she was standing near the border fence with her five children when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired at least three tear gas canisters in their direction.
"I felt sad, I was scared. I wanted to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and ran," she told BuzzFeed. "I thought my kids were going to die with me because of the gas we inhaled."
The image sparked worldwide outrage over the actions of U.S. border officials and appeared to contradict the Trump administration's narrative that the caravan of Central American migrants that Meza had traveled with from Honduras contained dangerous criminals.
"We have to tell the truth and tell the story by sharing pictures," Kim told The Washington Post. "I just captured the moment of what is happening there, and then it went viral. It became a chance for more people to think about these migrant issues."
The migrants hoped to apply for asylum in the U.S. citing the rampant gang violence in their home countries. But there are massive backlogs for asylum seekers along the U.S. southern border. Even before the caravan of roughly 6,000 migrants arrived, there were already about 2,800 asylum-seekers in Tijuana.
The Trump administration tried to block the migrants from applying for asylum, but a federal judge blocked the order, ruling President Donald Trump "may not rewrite the immigration laws."
The government offered its own explanation of what happened that day.
"Our agents were under assault," CBP Commissioner Robert Perez said in defense of the use of tear gas.
Trump, who has advocated the use of lethal force along the border, said the migrants "rushed" the border fence and CBP agents responded appropriately. He also claimed, without evidence, that some of the migrants traveling with children were not parents but "grabbers."
"They grab a child because they think they’ll have a certain status by having a child," he claimed.
Contributing: Alan Gomez and David Jackson, USA TODAY; Rafael Carranza, Arizona Republic
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Congressman says migrant woman tear-gassed with kids in viral photo applies for asylum