A few of the migrants whose journey stopped at the border yet stirred Washington began their asylum application process Tuesday, while the Justice Department filed criminal charges against other suspected members of the caravan for illegal entry.
Central American migrants who made the publicized annual journey up through Mexico began arriving in Tijuana last week. Tents were set up in the border city to house those planning to attempt surrender at the U.S. Port of Entry.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group that organized the caravan, said 17 migrants were accepted by Customs and Border Protection for asylum processing Tuesday; CBP put the number taken in Monday and Tuesday at 28 asylum-seekers. One of the first to apply for asylum was a pregnant mother of two who fled Honduras under threats from gang members seeking her estranged husband.
“CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and is able to detain, transport and incarcerate thousands of people in a day, but is pretending that they don’t have the ‘capacity’ to accept 150 refugee parents and children whose arrival has been anticipated and communicated weeks in advance,” Pueblo Sin Fronteras said in a statement Monday.
As some applicants began their processing Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the first criminal charges for illegal entry suspected to have stemmed from the caravan. Eleven people were detained a few miles away from the San Ysidro crossing; one was also charged with illegal re-entry after having been previously deported.
“When respect for the rule of law diminishes, so too does our ability to protect our great nation, its borders, and its citizens,” Sessions said in a statement. “The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized.”
Sessions vowed to “continue to work with our partners in each U.S. Attorney’s Offices to aggressively pursue prosecutions of criminal illegal entry.”
Visiting the El Centro Border Patrol station in Southern California on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence called the caravan to be “rightly understood as a deliberate attempt to undermine the laws of this country and the sovereignty of the United States.”
“Thanks to the cooperation of the Mexican government, the caravan has been reduced from thousands to less than 150 that are at our border today. And make no mistake about it — and I say this from my heart: Every American should understand these people are victims,” Pence said. “They’re being exploited by open-border political activists and an agenda-driven media. And in far too many cases, on this day and every day that’s preceded it, men and women and children, like those gathered at our border today, are exploited by human smugglers and criminal and drug cartels who seize of their hardship and difficulty to undermine our laws and to profit for themselves.”
Echoing statements last week from DHS and CBP leaders, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) predicted that “very few” of the families in the caravan were legitimate asylum cases.
“It’s very important for Congress to act, because the American people now are going to see this caravan episode play out,” McCaul told Fox News on Tuesday, adding that he believes “many of the thousands now that are in detention space south of San Diego will end up staying in the United States.”
The chairman argued that the current “standard is very low” to claim credible fear of persecution. “They know that. And to get around that, the cartels teach them these magic words. And once they say that, they are allowed under current law to stay in the United States,” he said.
“What a lot of these applicants will say is that the drug cartels have threatened them, that if they go back they’re going to die, where in fact the drug cartels are the very ones who have actually escorted them through Mexico, and now as you see them climbing this physical barricade coming into United States,” McCaul continued. “And you have family units that are very difficult to break up. And in the past, they pretty much have all been allowed to stay in the country. I’m glad to hear that it sounds like they are sort of tightening up these questions on the border about credible fear.”
On the activist group’s Facebook page, Pueblo Sin Fronteras lauded the first acceptance of caravan migrants for asylum processing. “We are still missing many, but this is a triumph of all!!!” the group wrote. “The fight goes on and on and on.”