Border officials prepare for arrival of migrant caravan
Say they see no way to speed asylum process
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.
Customs and Border Protection head Kevin McAleenan is briefed at San Diego’s San Ysidro crossing.