Along the southern border with Republican senators: Reporter's Notebook

RACHEL SCOTT
·4 min read

We were out past 1 a.m. Friday with more than a dozen Republican senators along the southern border.

Their message: Send the unaccompanied minors back.

On Wednesday, there were 5,156 children in Border Patrol's custody and 11,900 children in the Department of Health and Human Services' custody, according to data released by HHS.

Along the way, we met a mother just moments after she stepped onto U.S. soil -- her 5-year-old daughter clenching her hand. It was just after midnight.

With tears in her eyes, she told me she fought to come to the United States for her daughter.

PHOTO: Rachel Scott speaks with a mother after she stepped onto U.S. soil with her five-year-old daughter along the U.S.-Mexican border, March 26, 2021. (ABC News )
PHOTO: Rachel Scott speaks with a mother after she stepped onto U.S. soil with her five-year-old daughter along the U.S.-Mexican border, March 26, 2021. (ABC News )

She was emotional, describing the journey -- saying it's been difficult. They went many days without food. As her little girl heard her mother cry, she began crying too.

"It’s been very difficult, a lot of days fighting with hunger on the way, and it’s not easy to just come, and hide from Guatemala’s immigration officers," she said. "One comes alone without anyone that can help them, one comes alone, it's very difficult"

In the mother's pocket, a laminated piece of paper with the phone number of family in Maryland. Her husband already made it there with their son from Honduras. He said the time to come is now.

MORE: Migrants released from Rio Grande Valley without court dates

President Joe Biden has said now is not the time to come, but pushed back against sending unaccompanied minors home during a press conference Thursday.

"The idea that I'm going to say, which I would never do, that if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we're just going to let him starve to death and stay on the other side, no previous administration did that either, except Trump," Biden said. "I’m not going to do it."

We met a 17-year-old from Guatemala who made the trip alone. He told us they he came out of "necessity" -- saying there weren't opportunities at home. He has no family in the United States, just the telephone number of a family friend who is a pastor. He's been on foot for more than a month.

We followed more than a dozen senators to the edge of the river, Mexico just on the other side. You could hear people on rafts taunting them as they looked across.

PHOTO: Rachel Scott listens to Senator Lindsey Graham along the U.S.-Mexican border, March 26, 2021. (ABC News )
PHOTO: Rachel Scott listens to Senator Lindsey Graham along the U.S.-Mexican border, March 26, 2021. (ABC News )

I asked Sen. Linsey Graham, D-S.C., if he believes that mother and child I just met should be sent back.

"I don't blame the mother and the daughter. I blame the policies we're creating. It’s incentivizing people to take a long dangerous journey." he said. "You have to stop the flow, you have to tell mother that she will no longer be released in the United States."

I asked: "Do you want to send all the unaccompanied minors back across the border?"

"Yes absolutely," he said: "You got to shut it off, tell people not come."

MORE: Biden administration allows access to border facility -- but not ones over capacity

Graham's message to Biden: "End this madness. Come to the border and find out what is really happening on your watch."

Biden said during his press conference Thursday that he had not visited the border because it could put stress on an already precarious situation, though he did say he'd expand access to facilities where children are being held, especially for journalists.

"One of the reasons I haven't gone down, my chief folks have gone down, is I don't want to become the issue," Biden said. "I don't want to be, you know, bringing all the secret service and everybody with me to get in the way."

PHOTO: Sen. Ted Cruz arrives to speak to the media after a tour of part of the Rio Grande river on a Texas Department of Public Safety boat in Mission, Texas, March 26, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Sen. Ted Cruz arrives to speak to the media after a tour of part of the Rio Grande river on a Texas Department of Public Safety boat in Mission, Texas, March 26, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I asked the senators: Were they outraged with the condition and policies under the Trump administration?

"What outrage? The outrage is that you entice people to do this," Graham said. He added, "What President Biden did today at that news conference was a disaster. ... What he did is created a human tsunami that’s going to come to the United States. He didn’t mean to, but I don’t think he understands his own policies."

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said to me: "Really what we’re asking is, should we keep the kids here and the parents are somewhere else in their country?"

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

Along the southern border with Republican senators: Reporter's Notebook originally appeared on abcnews.go.com