Caravan asylum-seekers heading toward showdown at US border
A caravan of hundreds of Central Americans that has traveled through Mexico over the past month will arrive on the southern U.S. border on Sunday, setting up a showdown at the nation’s busiest border crossing as the group turns themselves over to border inspectors seeking asylum.
The group of roughly 200 people, including women and young children, is expected to turn themselves over to border inspectors at San Diego’s San Ysidro border crossing around 4 p.m. ET after arriving in Tijuana last week, claiming they have a credible fear of persecution at home. Demonstrators gathered along the border to hold a rally in the hours before crossing over, with some people scaling the fence.
“The only thing I would tell Mr. Trump is to have a conscious and to look at all the people and the way they suffer. Because the people, they are coming from those countries, they are not doing it for pleasure,” Osman Salvador Ulla Castro, who is from Honduras, told Fox News. “They face danger and extortions and they are looking for a better life.”
The Border Patrol said Saturday that several groups of families from the caravan tried to enter the U.S. illegally by scaling parts of the “dilapidated scrap metal border fence” near San Ysidro.
“In several of these incidents, children as young as 4 years old, and in one case a pregnant female, were detected entering the United States illegally through a dark, treacherous canyon that is notorious for human and drug smuggling,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott said. “As a father myself, I find it unconscionable that anyone would expose a child to these dangerous conditions.”
The Trump administration has been tracking the caravan since it started March 25 near the Guatemala border, calling it a threat to the U.S., in addition to promising a swift response.
The administration has also claimed the caravan is a deliberate attempt to overwhelm U.S. legal system and the courts.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week that asylum claims will be resolved “efficiently and expeditiously,” but the asylum-seekers should seek it in the first safe country they reach, including Mexico.
Asylum-seekers are typically separated from their children and held up to three days at the border before being turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If they pass an asylum officer’s initial screening, they may be detained for several months until their court hearing or released with ankle monitors.
Nearly 80 percent of asylum-seekers passed the initial screening from October through December, according to the latest numbers available, but few are likely to eventually win asylum.
Any asylum seekers making false claims to U.S. authorities could be prosecuted, as could anyone who assists or coaches immigrants on making false claims, according to Nielsen.
Administration officials and their allies claim asylum fraud is growing and that many who seek it are coached on how to do so.
U.S. immigration lawyers who went to Tijuana have denied coaching people in the caravan, but have said they have been providing one-on-one counseling to assess the merits of their cases and how asylum works in the U.S.
“Like how to defend myself with immigration, how to carry myself,” a 16-year-old unaccompanied minor from Honduras told Fox News on Saturday regarding the meetings he’s had with lawyers.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the caravan “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system,” pledging to send more immigration judges to the border to resolve cases if needed.
The San Ysidro crossing, which admits about 75,000 people a day into the country, may be unable to take asylum-seekers if it faces too many at once, forcing people to wait in Mexico until it has more room, Pete Flores, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office director, told the Associated Press.
Flores said earlier this month that the port can hold about 300 people temporarily.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.