HOUSTON—As two, thousands-strong Central American migrant caravans inch closer to the U.S. border, law enforcement is gearing up to meet them.
By the end of the week, the Department of Defense will have deployed 5,200 active-duty troops to assist with the temporary barricading of the border, as well as provide support to Customs and Border Protection officers.
Gen. Terrence John O’Shaughnessy from the U.S. Northern Command said Oct. 29 that troops are heading south “as we speak” to “harden the southern border.”
O’Shaughnessy said the priority of the mission, dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot, is to fortify southern Texas, then Arizona, and finally California. The focus will be securing the ports of entry and the key gaps around them. Heavy equipment used to build temporary vehicle barriers and fencing is currently being hauled to Texas.
Enough concertina wire to span 22 miles is already at the border, O’Shaughnessy said, with an additional 150 miles available. He confirmed that the troops who are normally armed, will be armed.
Estimates of the number of people in the caravan have varied, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Oct. 29 that the agency is following two caravans—one in Mexico of about 3,500 people and another, a newly-formed group of about 3,000 people, that is reaching the Guatemala–Mexico border. Most of the migrants are from Honduras and around 75 percent of them are men.
It is unclear where the groups would try to cross the U.S.–Mexico border, but the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is a likely, and the closest, spot. Already, Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley Sector apprehends an average of almost 600 illegal border crossers every day.
President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet have urged the caravan to turn back, warning that they won’t gain access to the United States.
“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Oct. 29. “Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
McAleenan said the first caravan has already made unlawful entry across two international borders, and the second “has deployed violent and dangerous tactics against both Guatemalan and Mexican border-security teams.”
“Accordingly, we are preparing for the contingency of a large group of arriving persons intending to enter the United States in the next several weeks,” he said.
Anyone who crosses into the United States illegally will be apprehended and charged accordingly, McAleenan said. Asylum-seekers have already been offered protection and employment in Mexico.
“If you are fleeing alleged persecution at home, you have arrived at a safe place to make your claim,” he said. “If you’re an economic migrant seeking to join family members in the United States, you should return home and apply for appropriate visa.”
As with a smaller caravan in April, the United States is obligated to allow asylum-seekers to enter the country. However, it can temporarily close the border.
The United States has put pressure on Mexico to halt the caravan’s progress; outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto has offered jobs to migrants who register for asylum in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, as well as education for their children.
San Diego-based Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an open-borders organization that supports the caravan and led its own group north to cross into the United States in April, posted a response to Mexico’s offer on Facebook on Oct. 26.
“This plan does not truly respond to the causes of the Central American exodus, and therefore does not solve their needs from a perspective that respects their human rights in a holistic way,” the post said, clarifying that it was the “collective response” of the majority of the caravan members.
“We need respect for the right to migrate and seek asylum in the places that people choose as their destinations.”
Approximately 1,743 migrants had sought asylum in Mexico by Oct. 24, while 116 agreed to be deported, officials said.
Vice President Mike Pence said intelligence indicates that the caravan was organized by leftist political organizations and activists.
“I spoke to President Hernandez of Honduras. He told me that the caravan … was organized by leftist groups in Honduras, financed by Venezuela, and sent north to challenge our sovereignty and challenge our border,” Pence said in a video alongside Trump on Oct. 23.
Trump Blames Democrats for Loopholes
At a recent rally, Trump called the caravan “an assault on our country.”
“Do you know how the caravan started?” Trump said in Houston on Oct. 22. “I think the Democrats had something to do with it, and now they’re saying, ‘I think we made a big mistake,’ because people are seeing how bad it is.”
Trump blamed Democrats for encouraging illegal aliens to break U.S. immigration laws and for failing to close the loopholes in the system.
“The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country, the security of our nation, and the safety of every single American,” Trump said.
“The crisis on our border right now, as we speak, is the sole result of Democrat laws and activist Democrat judges that prevent us from returning illegal aliens from Central America and all over the world—it’s called catch-and-release.”
The administration has been trying to get Congress to close the catch-and-release loophole, which allows for illegal aliens who claim asylum to stay and work in the United States for years until their immigration court date—at which time, most fail to turn up.
Up to 90 percent of those at the border who claim fear of returning to their home country pass an initial “credible fear” screening. Of those who show up at court, about 13 percent are granted asylum, according to fiscal year 2016 numbers, when more than 65,000 asylum applications were received. The courts are bogged down, with around 700,000 active cases.
The number of asylum claims from Honduran nationals has skyrocketed over the last several years. However, the number granted asylum has hovered around 5 percent.
In fiscal year 2012, about 1,550 Hondurans applied for asylum and 73 were accepted—a 4.7 percent rate. Another 197 were classified as “other.”
In fiscal year 2016, almost 11,000 Hondurans applied and 620 were accepted—a 5.7 rate—while another 2,247 were classified as “other.”
Trump wants the ability to detain asylum-seekers and illegal border crossers until their cases are adjudicated, solving the catch-and-release conundrum. It would require an amendment to the Flores Settlement Agreement, which stipulates that adults with children (the largest group of asylum-seekers) can’t be held for more than 20 days in detention, which isn’t enough time to adjudicate their cases.
The time it takes for a case to be determined varies, depending on whether the individual is in a detention facility or not. For example, in Imperial, California, the cases of non-detained individuals take an average of 1,490 days (four years) to complete, compared with 114 days for those who are detained, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
However, the lack of detention space is another reason catch-and-release exists. If detention facilities are full, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has no choice but to release illegal immigrants into communities. In June, DHS asked the Defense Department to help house and care for “an alien family population of up to 12,000 people,” a Defense spokesman said.
The second big loophole the administration wants plugged is the inability to return unaccompanied minors to countries in Central America or other noncontiguous countries, under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), a well-intentioned law that is nevertheless being exploited.
“The Democrats don’t care what their extremist immigration agenda will do to your neighborhoods, to your hospitals, or to your schools,” Trump said. “They don’t care that the mass illegal immigration will totally bankrupt our country. Because all the Democrats care about is regaining power, not matter how they have to go about doing it. … And that’s why the Democrats all support catch-and-release.”
Trump has advocated a merit-based immigration system that would prioritize those who can support themselves and work in areas that have shortfalls. He wants to eliminate the diversity visa lottery and reduce chain migration.
“We want people to come into our country. … But they have to come in legally. And the have to come in through merit,” he said.
Trump Supporters Want Legal Immigration
The Epoch Times asked Trump supporters at the Houston rally on Oct. 22 for their opinions about the caravan and border security.
Jeff Benjamin, 47, an engineer and veteran, said he has been all over the world with the military and seen some of the worst conditions.
“So your heart goes out to people like that,” he said. “At the same time, we have rules, we have laws, we have our sovereignty, our borders. And for people to just disregard that, clearly demonstrates to me that they’re not ready to be Americans. That’s kind of the cornerstone of what America is all about; we’re a nation of laws and the constitution, and equal treatment under the law. I don’t see people who are gonna just flout that… I don’t think that’s right to consider letting them in.”
Carla Cowell, 38, described the caravan as an invasion.
“These are invaders, they’re not migrants. They’re marching with their flag,” she said. “It’s 5,000 of them marching strong on our country right now. What needs to be done is President Trump needs to send the United States Army to the border, with orders to use deadly force if necessary.”
Her friend Grace White agreed.
“No one looks hungry, they’re all well-dressed, they all have cell phones, they’re all smoking cigarettes, and they couldn’t be walking and get from their location where they started to America in this period of time—they’re being bused here,” White said. “We are being invaded. And they should be treated as invaders.”
Contractor Richard Egan said that if the caravan members were true asylum-seekers, they would apply for asylum in the first country they crossed into.
“So, I think by the time they get here, the entire event’s illegal anyway, and they should be turned around,” he said. “And if they’re not, then I definitely think we should have the military down at the border.”
Joanne Diggs said she understands why people want to come to the United States, “but there’s a legal way to come.”
“The way they’re coming now, it’s not right. We have a way for them to come into the country, but come into the country legally,” she said.
Her friend Ginger Crowley agreed, saying she can’t just walk into any country and announce she is staying.
George Beard, retired, said Mexico should stop the caravan.
“And if they’re gonna continue to allow them to come on through, then we should be limiting our funds that are going to their country,” he said.
Jenni Brelser, who traveled four hours from Dallas-Fort Worth to the rally, said everyone should follow the law.
“They need to be stopped, and if they want to come into our country they’ve got to do it legally—just like everybody else,” she said.