‘Caravan’ of Central American migrants arrives at US border to apply for asylum

The caravan set off from southern Mexico five weeks ago

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Sunday 29 April 2018 18:34
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Migrant 'caravan' gathers at the US-Mexico border

Hundreds of Central American migrants from a “caravan” denounced by Donald Trump have arrived at the US border, where scores plan to try and seek asylum.

Speaking to supporters at a rally in Michigan on Saturday, Mr Trump referred to the convoy of people fleeing gang violence and poverty as “a mess”. His administration has warned it will protect the US’s “borders and sovereignty” against attempts at illegal entry.

Yet, the migrants who gathered five weeks ago at a town in southern Mexico made their way northwards, have said they want to enter the US legally, and apply for political asylum. They said they wanted to do do this, even though US immigration lawyers had warned them they could be separated from their children and spend months in detention centres.

As anywhere up to 200 migrants from countries such as Honduras and El Salvador arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, the volunteer lawyers warned them of the hardships they faced.

“We are the bearers of horrible news,” Los Angeles-based lawyer Nora Phillips said during a break from free legal workshops for the migrants, where about lawyers gave advice. According to the Associated Press, she added: “That’s what good attorneys are for.”

The migrants, who say they are fleeing gang violence that has made their countries some of the deadliest on earth, have indicated they wish to press ahead nonetheless. Scores were due to seek asylum at San Diego’s San Ysidro border crossing, the nation’s busiest. During the day, people climbed onto the barriers that divide the two countries.

On Sunday morning, the activist group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which has helped members of the caravan, said on Twitter: “Refugee Caravan and March without Borders reach both sides of border wall at Friendship Park San Diego/Tijuana border. Although physically divided by the wall, we are united by love and solidarity.”

Kenia Elizabeth Avila, 35, from El Salvador, was shaken when the pro bono lawyers told her that temperatures may be cold in temporary holding cells and that she could may well be separated from her three children, aged 10, 9 and 4. But she said all of that was better than returning to El Salvador, where a civil war that left 70,000 dead, followed by years of gang violence, had created a perilous place for children to grow up.

“If they’re going to separate us for a few days, that’s better than getting myself killed in my country,” she said.

The so-called caravan of migrants, one of many that try to make their way through Mexico to allow the people to try and enter the US, started with as many as 1,200 people when it formed on 25 March in the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border.

The Trump administration has been carefully monitoring the caravan and promising a stern response. Mr Trump claimed the threat presented by the migrants required him to send troops to the US’s southern border, and National Guard units were dispatched in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, the four US states that border Mexico.

“Now, the caravan, which is over 1,000 people coming in from Honduras, thought they were just going to walk right through Mexico and right through the border,” Mr Trump said at the beginning of April.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in talks with governors of border states about deploying national guard

Attorney General Jeff Sessions 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.

This week, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen warned that her department would “protect our borders and our sovereignty”.

“Let me be clear: we will enforce the immigration laws as set forth by congress,” she said.

“If you enter our country illegally, you have broken the law and will be referred for prosecution. If you make a false immigration claim, you have broken the law and will be referred for prosecution. If you assist or coach an individual in making a false immigration claim, you have broken the law and will be referred for prosecution.”

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, according to Pete Flores, US Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office director.

The Border Patrol said “several groups” of people in the caravan have entered the country illegally since Friday by climbing a dilapidated metal fence. It did not say how many people.

Since congress failed to agree on a broad immigration package in February, administration officials have made it a legislative priority to end what they call “legal loopholes” and “catch-and-release” policies that allow asylum-seekers to be released from custody while their claims wind through the courts in cases that can last for years.

Ana Suaso, a Honduran woman who was travelling with three of her children, and who was staying in a tent inside a tin-roofed building set up by a charity, told the Wall Street Journal she was prepared to make the final push to US. She said: “I’m ready to go.”

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