Border Agents Stop Asylum Seekers, Cite Overcapacity

June 5, 2018 Last Updated: June 5, 2018

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents stood on a pedestrian bridge linking Mexico and the United States over the weekend and temporarily prevented asylum-seekers from entering the country.

It is the second time in less than six weeks that the United States has halted entry to asylum-seekers at ports of entry. The first was on April 29 at the San Ysidro crossing in San Diego as a caravan of migrants from Central America was attempting to enter, but CBP was over capacity.

At that time, entry was closed to asylum-seekers for one day.  

“In recent days, San Ysidro has exceeded port capacity due to an increase in arrivals of undocumented persons making asylum claims or presenting complex cases,” an official said at the time.

A CBP spokesman said the latest stoppage, on the Paso del Norte Bridge port of entry in El Paso, Texas, is also temporary and due to the same reasons.

“CBP processes undocumented persons as expeditiously as possible without negating the agency’s overall mission, or compromising the safety of individuals within our custody,” the CBP spokesperson said in an email.

“The number of inadmissible individuals CBP is able to process varies based upon case complexity; available resources; medical needs; translation requirements; holding/detention space; overall port volume; and ongoing enforcement actions.”

Limiting entry is not common, but it happened in San Ysidro around six months ago, and in 2016, entry was restricted when an influx of Haitians arrived at the California border, according to a CBP official.

“Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities,” the spokesperson said.

The United States has experienced an uptick in asylum-seekers in the last few months—especially from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In March and April, almost 27,000 family units and unaccompanied minors crossed the southwest border illegally—and most will claim asylum.

Statistics on how many people claimed asylum after entering a port of entry during those months are not available.

The Trump administration has said the asylum system is being gamed and wants Congress to close loopholes.