Bor­der of­fi­cials pre­pare for ar­rival of mi­grant car­a­van

Say they see no way to speed asylum process

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Alan Gomez

SAN DIEGO – With 2,100 Na­tional Guards­men al­ready fanned out along the south­ern bor­der and an­other 1,000 troops on the way, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing every­thing it can to en­sure that mem­bers of the mi­grant car­a­van headed north through Mex­ico do not il­le­gally en­ter the United States.

But af­ter tour­ing the largest port of en­try along that bor­der Fri­day, the head of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion con­ceded that his of­fi­cers don’t have a way to speed up their abil­ity to process car­a­van mem­bers try­ing to en­ter the coun­try legally by re­quest­ing asylum.

While vis­it­ing the San Ysidro Port of En­try, the main cross­ing be­tween San

“We’re not go­ing to al­low a large group to push into the United States un­law­fully. We can’t have it. It’s not safe for any­body in­volved.” Kevin McAleenan Com­mis­sioner of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion

Diego and Ti­juana, CBP Com­mis­sioner Kevin McAleenan said his agency views the loom­ing ar­rival of the mi­grant car­a­van as a “law en­force­ment sit­u­a­tion.”

He said his Bor­der Pa­trol agents and mem­bers of the mil­i­tary will be ready to rapidly de­ploy any­where along the nearly 2,000-mile bor­der to en­sure the car­a­van does not force its way across the bor­der, as it did when it crossed from Gu­atemala into Mex­ico.

“We’re not go­ing to al­low a large group to push into the United States un­law­fully,” he said. “We can’t have it. It’s not safe for any­body in­volved.”

But the last mi­grant car­a­van that reached the United States ear­lier this year showed that most par­tic­i­pants took the le­gal route by ap­ply­ing for asylum. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, 122 car­a­van mem­bers were caught il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der, but 401 re­quested asylum, with 93 per­cent pass­ing their ini­tial screen­ing.

Still, McAleenan said his hands are tied as to how his of­fi­cers can process more car­a­van mem­bers who present them­selves at ports of en­try, as the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has urged them to do.

“It’s not turn­ing peo­ple away; it’s ask­ing them to wait,” he said.

McAleenan’s tour of the bor­der comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion searches for a way to dis­suade or halt the mi­grant car­a­van that has been es­ti­mated at up to 10,000 peo­ple.

De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said dur­ing her own tour of the Cal­i­for­nia bor­der Fri­day that “every­thing is on the ta­ble,” in­clud­ing a pro­posal to halt all asylum re­quests along the south­ern bor­der. Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto, un­der pres­sure from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, an­nounced that car­a­van mem­bers who stay in the south­ern por­tion of his coun­try would be given tem­po­rary work per­mits and ac­cess to pub­lic health ben­e­fits, ed­u­ca­tion and shel­ters.

None of that has stopped the ma­jor­ity of car­a­van mem­bers, who con­tinue their slow trek north. U.S. of­fi­cials are up­dat­ing their mass mi­gra­tion re­sponse plans all across the bor­der be­cause it re­mains un­clear where or when the group will ar­rive.

McAleenan, who over­sees Cus­toms of­fi­cers who man the na­tion’s ports of en­try and Bor­der Pa­trol agents who mon­i­tor the vast stretches in be­tween, said the ideal place would be the San Ysidro port. Of­fi­cials there fi­nal­ized a mul­ti­year, $750 mil­lion up­grade in Au­gust that vastly ex­panded the num­ber of lanes avail­able for cargo trucks, buses, per­sonal ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans. About 100,000 peo­ple cross through the port each day.

De­spite im­prove­ments, the fa­cil­ity can only process about 100 asy­lum­seek­ers each day, hous­ing them in base­ment hold­ing cells. McAleenan said they are of­ten stuck there un­til space opens up in de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties run by Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment for adults and the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices for mi­nors.

ALAN GOMEZ/USA TO­DAY

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion head Kevin McAleenan is briefed at San Diego’s San Ysidro cross­ing.

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