Migrant Caravan May Be Planning ‘Human Stampede’ at US Border, Advocacy Group Says

November 22, 2018 Updated: November 22, 2018

An immigrant advocacy group has claimed that some members of the migrant caravan, now in Tijuana, Mexico, after streaming north from Central America, have expressed the intent to rush the U.S. border en masse.

“They have that intention,” Sergio Tamai, a founder of Angels Without Borders, told Telemundo 20 in San Diego on Nov. 22. “I believe that thousands could make that jump.”

Tamai told AFP reporters in March that the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the United States are evidence that it’s possible to make the crossing.

“They are the proof that it’s possible to get through. More Mexicans are getting through all the time,” said Tamai, who runs a shelter for migrants in the border city of Mexicali. He said they will always find a way. “The desert. The mountains. Human traffickers. You can’t take away that desire to cross to the other side.”

Caravan Reaches Tijuana

At least 3,000 migrants arrived in Tijuana, a border city across from San Diego, in the past two weeks. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could grow to 10,000 in the coming weeks or months.

Those already in the city have camped out in tents, slept on dirt fields, or under bleachers or are staying in overcrowded shelters throughout the city as they wait to figure out their next steps. But some are growing impatient, and believe their best option is to plan a mass crossing.

“Most of us, yes, we want to be on the other side,” Jorge Molina, a Honduran migrant, told Telemundo. “Some want to jump over the wall, others to go another way, and others want to wait and see what kind of response they get.”

migrants leave Mexicali for Tijuana
Migrants leave Mexicali for Tijuana, Mexico, Nov. 20, 2018. (Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo)

Dozens Arrested

Border agents have arrested dozens of migrants trying to illegally cross the border.

About 5,800 active-duty U.S. troops dispatched to the border to deal with the migrant crisis started coming home this week. On Nov. 19, a federal judge barred President Donald Trump from enforcing a ban on asylum-seekers who cross the U.S. border illegally.

Trump said Nov. 22 that he would order the U.S. border with Mexico closed for an undisclosed period of time if his administration determines that its southern ally has lost “control” on its side. He called it “a really bad situation” there and said that “if we find that it’s uncontrollable,” then “we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control. The whole border.”

The president also said he’s given U.S. troops at the border the “OK” to use lethal force against migrants, “if they have to.”

Trump told reporters, “I hope they don’t have to,” but added, “I have no choice” because “you’re dealing with rough people.”

On Nov. 20, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited a Pacific Ocean beach in San Diego, examining up close the newly installed razor wire wrapped around a towering wall that cuts across the sand. On the Tijuana side, dozens of onlookers armed with cellphones peered through the wall to take pictures of her arrival.

“This is a border wall with row upon row of concertina wire,” Nielsen said. “Make no mistake, we are very serious. You will not get into our country illegally.”

Kirstjen Nielsen inspects a section of border fence
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (L), walks next to a section of the border wall fortified with razor wire separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, on Nov. 20, 2018. (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)

Under Pressure

Many migrants said they have no intention of illegally forcing their way across the border, but are feeling pressure after an outbreak of anti-migrant protests in Tijuana.

Keven Paul Mejia, a 27-year-old former security guard from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, said there were some delinquents, who smoke marijuana and get drunk, traveling with the group of several thousand.

But, he said, most are like him, just hoping to land a job in the United States.

“There are more of us who are good, than bad,” Mejia said.

Some Tijuana residents have resisted the presence of the caravan. Over the weekend, about 500 residents marched to an outdoor sports complex where the migrants were camped out, and chanted, “Get out!” and “We don’t want you here!”

Officials have said they arrested 34 caravan members for drug possession, public intoxication, disturbing the peace, and resisting police; the law-breakers will be deported to their home countries.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum has made a point of saying the city isn’t happy with the migrants who began arriving last week. He compared the Central American group unfavorably with about 3,000 Haitians who ended up staying after their bid to reach the United States failed last year.

“The Haitians arrived with their papers, with a clear vision,” Gastélum said in an interview posted on the city’s Facebook page. They came “in an orderly way, they never asked us for food or shelter,” renting apartments and making their own food. He said the Haitians found jobs, “inserted themselves in the city’s economy,” and hadn’t been involved in any disturbances.

By contrast, Gastélum said, the caravan of Central Americans “arrived all of sudden, with a lot of people—not all … but a lot—were aggressive and cocky.”

Tijuana Councilman Manuel Monárrez said a mass rush on the border would further strain economic relations with the United States.

“A human stampede would be an immediate provocation to the U.S.,” Monárrez told Telemundo. “And justify [President] Donald Trump to impact the binational dynamics of the economy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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