A caravan of around 300 migrants from Central American arrived at the U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday morning, where they planned to ask for asylum, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed News.
“I’m a little scared of turning myself in, but I’m more scared of going back to where we were,” 17-year-old Noel, of Honduras, told BuzzFeed news as he stood near a border crossing.
The annual Via Crucis caravan — named after the suffering Jesus experienced on the way to his execution in Christian tradition — swelled this year due to political unrest and gang violence in the region, according to the Associated Press.
It drew the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump during a campaign-style rally in Washington Township, Michigan, late Saturday.
“Are you watching that mess that’s going on right now with the caravan coming up?” Trump asked the crowd, to loud boos. “Are you watching this? And our laws are so weak. They’re so pathetic. Given to us by Democrats. They’re so pathetic.”
Elsewhere in the speech, Trump vowed to shut down the federal government if Democrats don’t agree to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by the Sept. 28 appropriations deadline.
“[I]f we don’t get border security, we’ll have no choice,” Trump said. “We’ll close down the country, because we need border security.”
Trump has made the caravan a frequent target of his attacks since it began on March 25.
“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there,” Trump tweeted on April 3. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”
The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our “Weak Laws” Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
Two days later Trump claimed, without evidence, that women in the caravan were being “raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.” A BuzzFeed news reporter traveling with the caravan disputed that claim, saying on Twitter that he had not “heard of anyone being raped in or around the caravan.” One female caravan member interviewed by the Daily Mail called Trump’s claim “fake news”
By contrast, over a dozen women have accused Trump of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment over the course of his career. During a 2005 taping for Access Hollywood, Trump bragged about kissing and groping women without their permission. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump boasts on the video, which The Washington Post published in 2016. “You can do anything.”
The Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department sent additional resources to the border ahead of the caravan’s arrival, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. But it’s unclear how many migrants border officials will allow through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana on Sunday.
The rest may have to wait in Mexico until officials can process them, according to a statement Saturday by Pete Flores, the director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.
“Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP Officers work to process those already within our facilities,” Flores told BuzzFeed News. “All travelers will be processed in accordance with appropriate detention and removal enforcement protocols.”
Gina Garibo is with the group Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders, which organized the caravan. She criticized the metering of asylum seekers at the U.S. border on Sunday. “It’s a way of discouraging people,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Other “people associated with” the caravan crossed into the U.S. illegally on Saturday — including a pregnant woman and young children — according to a statement from Customs and Border Protection to The Los Angeles Times. It was not immediately clear how many people crossed illegally, how closely associated they were with the caravan, or where they are now.
Customs and Border Protection will detain asylum seekers who manage to get through an official border crossing, pending an interview to determine whether they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
U.S. officials may separate parents seeking asylum from their children during this process, according to The Wall Street Journal — a practice that is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Meanwhile, dozens of U.S. citizens have offered to house the migrants in their own homes.
“It seemed like a no-brainer,” 36-year-old Blair Overstreet told The Los Angeles Times as she and her husband, Matt Dunn, prepared to host some of the migrants in their two-bedroom, one-bath apartment.
Other migrants in the caravan will likely have to remain in Mexico or other Central American countries if their asylum cases are not strong enough, according to Nicole Ramos, an immigration attorney with the advocacy group Al Otro Lado. Ramos, who is advising migrants in Tijuana, spoke to BuzzFeed news.
“We’re encouraging those people to think of other options in other parts of Latin America,” she said. “We’re telling them that if they don’t have a good case they’re entering a deportation system, not a protection system.”
On that, at least, U.S. officials and immigrant rights advocates agree. In a statement Saturday, Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott, with Customs and Border Protection, advised the migrants to seek safety outside the United States.
“Individuals of the ‘caravan’ seeking asylum or other similar claims should seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico,” Scott told The Los Angeles Times.