Caravan Storms US Border as Mexico Denies Deal on Asylum-Seekers

November 25, 2018 Updated: November 26, 2018

A caravan of Central American migrants attempted to force its way into the United States on Nov. 25 at the San Ysidro border crossing from Tijuana, Mexico.

Some 2,000 migrants participated, a Mexican federal police officer said, while 39 migrants were arrested for causing fights and disturbing public peace, according to a Mexican police spokesperson. No injuries were reported. Several U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were hit by projectiles, the agency said on Twitter.

More than 6,000 migrants have gathered in Tijuana, most of them from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They planned to march toward the San Ysidro border crossing and seek entry into the United States at noon on Nov. 25.

U.S. authorities prepared by shutting down the crossing for better part of the day and deploying hundreds of additional CBP officers. On the Mexican side, some 1,000 federal police officers, most appearing in riot gear, were deployed to prevent the migrants from crossing illegally.

Migrants have attempted to slip through the Mexican police lines to find gaps in the border fencing. While at least one group  successfully broke through the fence, they appeared to be forced back out by law enforcement with the help of tear gas. At another point, the migrants climbed over and damaged a part of the fencing. It wasn’t clear how many were able to get through.

A group of Central American migrants climb the border fence between Mexico and the United States as others try to bring it down, near El Chaparral border crossing, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico
A group of Central American migrants climb the border fence between Mexico and the United States as others try to bring it down, near El Chaparral border crossing, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on Nov. 25, 2018. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum has declared a humanitarian emergency in the city, in anticipation of thousands of more migrants due to arrive soon. He has repeatedly expressed frustration with the migrants’ behavior.

“I will not allow our bilateral relationship to be fractured by the bad actions of the migrant caravan,” Gastélum said in a Nov. 25 tweet. “They’re doing things outside of the law. We are affected at the border crossing. Many Tijuanans work, study, and visit the United States in healthy peace.”

Several hundred locals protested the caravan’s presence on Nov. 18, while reports of crimes committed by the migrants started to pile up. Most of the crimes appear minor, such as public intoxication and fighting, though one attempted rape of a 15-year-old migrant girl by an older migrant was reported.

On-and-Off Asylum Deal

Meanwhile, an official from the incoming Mexican government denied a tentative deal with the United States that would have required migrants who apply for U.S. asylum to wait for the resolution of their claims in Mexico—a plan dubbed “Remain in Mexico.” It was the same official, however, quoted earlier as confirming the deal.

“For now, we have agreed to this policy of Remain in Mexico,” said the incoming Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero, according to The Washington Post, which reported Nov. 24 that it interviewed Sánchez Cordero. She was quoted as calling the plan a “short-term solution.”

“The medium- and long-term solution is that people don’t migrate,” she said. “Mexico has open arms and everything, but imagine one caravan after another after another. That would also be a problem for us.”

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm the deal in a Nov. 24 tweet.

“Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court,” he said. “We only will allow those who come into our Country legally.”

Hours later, however, Sánchez appeared to backtrack.

“There is no agreement of any sort between the incoming Mexican government and the U.S. government,” she said in a statement, Fox News reported.

Sánchez is to take office on Dec. 1, together with President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Caravan Phenomenon

It’s nothing new for people from the three Central American nations to attempt entering the United States illegally. About a million have been caught by Border Patrol since 2013 (pdf).

Usually, however, they make their attempts in the Rio Grande Valley, commonly paying thousands of dollars to human traffickers who take small groups across the border by cartel-controlled drug smuggling routes.

The caravans, on the other hand, are hundreds or even thousands strong and have traveled towards the heavily fortified port of entry on the West Coast, a trip about twice as long than to the Rio Grande Valley.

“This phenomenon and how it’s manifested itself is absolutely unique to anything that we had seen in the past,” said Robert Perez, acting deputy CBP commissioner, speaking to Fox News on Nov. 25.

The first caravan embarked from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Oct. 13 with at least three more following from other areas in the weeks after.

The Tijuana Mayor said the caravans are “maliciously organized” with the “goal of creating trouble.”

Vice President Mike Pence was told by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández that the first caravan was organized by leftist groups and partially financed by Venezuela, Pence told Fox News on Oct. 26.

The migrants usually express a wish to claim asylum in the United States, but only 9 percent of Central Americans claiming asylum at the border are ruled ineligible by an immigration judge, according to the Justice Department.

The migrants interviewed by The Epoch Times mostly said they seek jobs or better-paid jobs in the United States. Asylum, however, requires facing a danger of being persecuted, such as for one’s religion, race, political opinion, or belonging to an oppressed group.

On Nov. 9, Trump issued a proclamation to deny the option to claim general asylum to illegal crossers (other types of asylum that require a higher burden of proof would still be available). But the proclamation was attacked in court and on Nov. 19 a federal judge from the 9th Circuit Appeals Court put the measure on hold.

Shutting the Border

Trump has tried to dissuade the migrants from coming illegally. He’s sent nearly 6,000 troops to the border to fortify fences and crossings with razor wire. He’s even authorized the troops to use force to protect Border Patrol agents if need be.

The president has also tried to end the policy of “catch and release,” where illegal border crossers are released into the country while awaiting their immigration court hearings often scheduled years ahead. Such migrants will now be held in tent cities at the border instead, Trump said on Oct. 29.

If all else fails, Trump warned he’ll shut down the border completely.

“There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!” he said in a Nov. 24 tweet.

Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this report.

Update: The article was updated to more clearly describe the rate of granting asylum by immigration judges to Central American migrants requesting asylum at the border.

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