The illegal immigrant caravan swamped border officials in San Diego Sunday as hundreds of people showed up at the San Ysidro port of entry and demanded admittance and asylum as reporters, immigrant rights activists and Mexican watched.
After a month of traveling across Mexico, hundreds of people, most of them from Honduras, massed in Tijuana and began to present themselves to U.S. border officials, reciting the script they’ve been coached to deliver to clear the first hurdles toward asylum.
They quickly overwhelmed port officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who said they’d reached capacity for the day and said the rest would have to wait to try later. Those who didn’t get in Sunday vowed to stick around and try.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the migrants will be taken in turn, but vowed to impose stiff penalties where possible, pointing to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s vows to pursue charges against anyone who lies to file a bogus asylum application, and against those who help people file bogus applications.
“As Secretary Nielsen said, we will enforce the immigration laws as set forth by Congress and encourage all individuals seeking to enter the U.S. that they do so lawfully. If you break our nation’s immigration laws, we will refer you for prosecution,” Mr. McAleenan said.
The caravan began in late March at Mexico’s southern border, where perhaps 1,500 Central Americans gathered to make the trip north. At President Trump’s urging, Mexico stepped in and offered asylum to some and said it deported at least 400 others — but some 600 said they were intent on reaching the U.S.
Security analysts said that signaled they were illegal immigrants rather than asylum-seekers, because they could have accepted asylum in Mexico, which is deemed a safe country. But instead they chose to head for the U.S. for job opportunities or to reconnect with family — the reasons most illegal immigrants attempt to jump the border.
“We’re not here to make a scene, we’re not here for a showdown. We are here for the United States to respect its own law, and to respect international law,” one caravan organizer told the swarm of reporters covering the migrants’ arrival at the port of entry Sunday.
Mr. McAleenan said the U.S. is working closely with Mexico to keep the caravan’s efforts as orderly as possible by limiting how many people are allowed to show up and demand asylum.
The arrangement is not new. During an earlier surge of Haitian migrants swamping the port during the Obama administration, Mexican officials limited asylum-seekers to 150 a day at San Ysidro.
“CBP officials are required to balance the resources necessary to both facilitate entry for the hundreds of thousands of travelers who arrive daily to the U.S. while also enforcing our nation’s immigration laws in a safe and orderly manner,” Mr. McAleenan said. “When necessary to facilitate orderly processing while maintaining security and the health and safety of officers and the public, this obligation can require port access controls to allocate inspection resources efficiently and to maintain safe and appropriate conditions within port facilities.”
But caravan organizers still chafed at the situation, complaining that Mexico was abetting U.S. immigration policies.
The migrants were expected to claim they have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries. Those are the so-called “magic words” that give them an early claim of asylum. Once they’ve made that claim, they are supposed to have their cases heard by immigration judges.
Homeland Security and the Justice Department said they were surging personnel to the border to be prepared to process the cases, hoping that if people saw those without valid cases quickly sent back others who also had fabricated cases wouldn’t bother to try.
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