Nearly 400 refugees from Central America who have moved in a “caravan” through Mexico to the U.S. border have gathered in Tijuana, where many plan to seek asylum in America.
“Shelters in Tijuana’s Zona Norte neighborhood, home to the many of the city’s seedy bars and bordellos, were full. That forced organizers to look elsewhere for temporary housing, said Leonard Olsen of Pueblos Sin Fronteras, a group leading the effort,” CNBC reports.
The caravan, which started out with 1,500 refugees from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, has been moving through Mexico for the last month, sometimes walking, sometimes on buses and trains. Their movement has drawn a stern response from President Trump, who dispatched the National Guard to the border to prevent them from crossing.
“Homeland Security [Secretary] Kirstjen Nielsen said late Wednesday that any person trying to cross into the U.S. who makes false claims to immigration authorities will [be] subject to criminal prosecution. She said prosecution was also possible for any people who might assist or coach immigrants to make false claims in bids to enter the U.S.,” CNBC reported.
Nielsen’s threat is consistent with the administration’s narrative of widespread asylum fraud and claims that asylum-seekers are coached on what to tell U.S. authorities. The secretary also said asylum seekers in the caravan should seek protection in the first safe country they reach, including Mexico.
The U.S. government is marshaling resources to ensure that cases are promptly decided, Nielsen said. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he may assign additional immigration judges to handle cases involving members of the caravan.
The refugees plan to start applying for asylum on Sunday.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that “The nation’s top immigration and border officials are urging Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to detain and prosecute all parents caught crossing the Mexican border illegally with their children, a stark change in policy that would result in the separation of families that until now have mostly been kept together.”
The memo sent to Nielsen on Monday — and signed by acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan, Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services L. Francis Cissna and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan — said attempted crossings by parents with children increased to nearly 700 a day last week, the highest level since 2016. The officials predicted that the number will continue to rise if Nielsen does not act.
Should refugees cross illegally, they face jail. “Most immigrants caught crossing the border illegally have typically faced civil deportation hearings to determine whether they may stay in the United States. But border-crossers can be charged criminally as well,” the Post said.