U.S. says cross­ing is full be­fore car­a­van tries to seek asy­lum

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By El­liot Sp­a­gat

SAN DIEGO » A group of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans who jour­neyed in a car­a­van to the U.S. bor­der re­solved to turn them­selves in and ask for asy­lum Sun­day in a di­rect chal­lenge to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — only to have U.S. im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials an­nounce that the San Diego cross­ing was al­ready at ca­pac­ity.

Nearly 200 mi­grants, many trav­el­ing with chil­dren, had de­cided to apply for pro­tec­tion at the na­tion’s busiest bor­der cross­ing af­ter many fled vi­o­lence in their home coun­tries, or­ga­niz­ers said. The car­a­van got at­ten­tion af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and mem­bers of his Cabi­net called it a threat to the United States.

Shortly be­fore the mi­grants were ex­pected to ar­rive, U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said San Diego’s San Ysidro cross­ing would not im­me­di­ately be able to han­dle more asy­lum seek­ers. It can hold about 300 peo­ple at a time, and of­fi­cials had been warn­ing that it might fill up.

“At this time, we have reached ca­pac­ity at the San Ysidro port of en­try for CBP of­fi­cers to be able to bring ad­di­tional per­sons trav­el­ing with­out ap­pro­pri­ate en­try doc­u­men­ta­tion into the port of en­try for pro­cess­ing,” Com­mis­sioner Kevin McAleenan said in a state­ment. “Those in­di­vid­u­als may need to wait in Mex­ico as CBP of­fi­cers work to process those al­ready within our fa­cil­i­ties.”

He said the cross­ing could take in ad­di­tional peo­ple as space and re­sources be­come avail­able. De­spite the news, about 200 mi­grants still started walk­ing to­ward the port.

Ro­dulfo Figueroa, the top Mex­i­can im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial in Baja Cal­i­for­nia state, told car­a­van or­ga­niz­ers to send in an ini­tial group of 20 mi­grants to see if U.S. bor­der in­spec­tors would en­ter­tain their re­quest for asy­lum.

Figueroa said he doesn’t know if they would be al­lowed in and had not re­ceived word from U.S. im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

Ni­cole Ramos, an at­tor­ney work­ing on be­half of car­a­van mem­bers, ex­pressed dis­be­lief that U.S. au­thor­i­ties can­not process more asy­lum seek­ers un­til its back­log eases.

“They have been well aware that a car­a­van is go­ing to ar­rive at the bor­der,” she said at a news con­fer­ence. “The fail­ure to pre­pare and fail­ure to get suf­fi­cient agents and re­sources is not the fault of the most vul­ner­a­ble among us. We can build a base in Iraq in un­der a week. We can’t process 200 refugees. I don’t be­lieve it.”

The mi­grants had made their way north by foot, freight train and bus over the past month, many of them say­ing they feared for their lives in their home coun­tries.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been track­ing the car­a­van since it started in Mex­ico on March 25 near the Gu­atemala bor­der. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has called the car­a­van “a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to un­der­mine our laws and over­whelm our sys­tem.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have railed against what they call Amer­ica’s “catch and re­lease” poli­cies that al­low peo­ple re­quest­ing asy­lum to be re­leased from cus­tody into the U.S. while their claims make their way through the courts, a process that can last a year.

Wendi Yaneri Gar­cia said she is con­fi­dent she will be re­leased while her asy­lum case is pend­ing be­cause she is trav­el­ing alone with her 2-year-old son, who has been sick.

“All I want is a place where I can work and raise my son,” the 36-year-old said.

She said that po­lice in her home­town of At­lantida, Hon­duras, jailed her for protest­ing con­struc­tion of a hy­dro­elec­tric plant and that she re­ceived death threats af­ter be­ing re­leased.

Nefi Her­nan­dez, 24, said a gang in his home­town of San Pe­dro Sula, Hon­duras, threat­ened to kill him and his fam­ily if he did not sell drugs. He in­tended to seek asy­lum with his wife and baby daugh­ter, who was born on the jour­ney through Mex­ico.

Jose Cazares, 31, said he faced death threats in the Hon­duran city of Yoro be­cause a gang mem­ber sus­pected of killing the mother of his chil­dren learned one of his sons re­ported the crime to po­lice.

Ear­lier Sun­day, the mi­grants boarded five old school buses to at­tend a rally at a Pa­cific Ocean beach, with sup­port­ers gath­er­ing on both sides of the bor­der fence and some climb­ing the bar­rier to sit or to wave signs.

The trav­el­ers face an un­cer­tain fu­ture if they ask for asy­lum. U.S. im­mi­gra­tion lawyers warned them that they face pos­si­ble sep­a­ra­tion from their chil­dren and de­ten­tion for many months.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said asy­lum claims will be re­solved “ef­fi­ciently and ex­pe­di­tiously.” But she warned that any asy­lum seek­ers mak­ing false claims could be pros­e­cuted, as could any­one who as­sists the mi­grants in do­ing so.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and their al­lies claim that asy­lum fraud is grow­ing and that many who seek it are coached on how to do so.

Asy­lum seek­ers are typ­i­cally held for up to three days at the bor­der and then turned over to U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. If they pass an asy­lum of­fi­cer’s ini­tial screen­ing, they may be de­tained or re­leased into the U.S. with an­kle mon­i­tors.

Maria de Los Angeles, 17, said she felt con­fi­dent af­ter speak­ing with an at­tor­ney that U.S. au­thor­i­ties would re­lease her while her case moves through the courts be­cause she was trav­el­ing alone with her 1-year-old son. She hoped to move in with a sis­ter in San Fran­cisco.

CHRIS CARL­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Demon­stra­tors march to meet Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants trav­el­ing in a car­a­van for a gath­er­ing at the bor­der on the beach where the bor­der wall ends in the ocean, Sun­day in San Diego.

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