SAN DIEGO -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited Border Field State Park Tuesday to view reinforcements added along the Mexican border in anticipation of a caravan of Central American migrants, saying her agency will do what it takes to prevent illegal crossings.
Customs and Border Protection, which DHS oversees, and military troops stationed in the area have been reinforcing border fencing with concertina wire, jersey barriers and other barricades since the beginning of November. Traffic at the border has also tightened because of the preparations, with CBP officials temporarily closing northbound lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry early Monday morning.
During her visit Tuesday, Nielsen echoed President Donald Trump's disagreement with reports that the migrants in and traveling to Tijuana have legitimate asylum claims and are mostly women. She said at least 500 of the migrants heading for the border are known criminals, although she did not say how she arrived at that figure.
"This administration will not tolerate frivolous asylum claims or illegal entry," she said. "If you try to enter our country without authorization, you have broken the law of the United States, you will be detained, prosecuted and repatriated. The DHS and the administration will continue to take all possible actions to stop the caravan from entering the United States illegally, without just cause and to ensure our borders are secure."
A report from Politico on Monday suggested that troops who were dispatched to the border as part of Trump's vow to prevent the massive migrant caravan from entering the country will start returning home this week, with a full disengagement planned by Dec. 15.
Nielsen would say only that DHS and the Department of Defense will continue their work at the border "until it is resolved."
The migrant caravan has been moving slowly toward the border, with an estimated 3,000 already amassing in Tijuana over the past week, and thousands more still making the long trek. Customs and Border Protection agents have been processing roughly 100 asylum claims per day since caravan members arrived in Tijuana on Nov. 11.
Local organizations and immigration advocates, like the business group Business for Good San Diego, pushed back on Nielsen's visit and DHS policies as a whole, arguing that they clash with San Diego's welcoming stance toward immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.
"The border-strengthening policies the Department of Homeland Security plans to add to the western border are a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars," said Business for Good Executive Director Karim Bouris. "The existing means of security we have at the border are sufficient. From a human rights perspective, we must remind ourselves that those seeking asylum are fleeing horrific conditions and, from an economic perspective, more than give back to our local economies once their businesses begin operating in the U.S."
The visit was Nielsen's first to the border in San Diego since becoming DHS secretary 11 months ago, although she has visited other sections of the border. She toured the Calexico border in October and sections in Imperial County and southern Arizona in April.