SAN DIEGO – Vice President Mike Pence planned to visit the U.S.- Mexico border wall in Imperial County Monday, while about 100 miles to the west of where Pence will visit Calexico, a couple hundred people traveling in a migrant caravan from Central America remain on the south side of the wall seeking asylum in the United States.
The migrant caravan, a yearly tradition that earlier this month drew the ire of President Donald Trump, arrived in Tijuana late last week. About 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the first 50 of the roughly 200 asylum-seekers attempted to walk into the San Ysidro Port of Entry to officially begin the process of requesting safe haven, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
But several hours later, the status of the first wave of migrants to seek asylum, mostly women and children, was uncertain, according to the Union- Tribune. As darkness fell, the first group had not entered the U.S. facility to be processed, and leaders of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras Caravan made no announcements about their fate, the newspaper said.
Earlier Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that the San Ysidro Port of Entry was already at capacity for people without documentation.
“Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, those individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities,” McAleenan said in a statement. “As sufficient space and resources become available, CBP officers will be able to take additional individuals into the port for processing.”
Earlier in the day, some of the caravan travelers — many of whom say they’re fleeing violence in their home countries — were at a cross-border rally six miles west of the port of entry. The refugees milled about at Playas de Tijuana on the Mexican side of the fence near its terminus at the Pacific Ocean. North of the fence, another 50 or so supporters rallied in Friendship Park, at the southern end of the United States’ Pacific Coast.
Some supporters of the caravan scaled the border fence, apparently clambering up from the Mexican side, although no one attempted to cross north into the United States.
The Pueblo Sin Fronteras Caravan — which translates to people without borders — is a yearly tradition around the Easter season. The immigrants move north together in a caravan for protection against the dangers, like kidnappers and rapists, that typically haunt the migrant trail through Mexico.
This year, the world’s spotlight was placed on the caravan when Trump began tweeting about it on early on Easter morning. He has tweeted about the caravan at least six times, including last week, and used the group to again call for construction of a border wall. But baffling many observers, the president has also attempted to tie the caravan to illegal drug trafficking and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The asylum-seekers in the caravan, most of whom are reportedly from Honduras, say they are fleeing violence in their home countries. In Honduras, the murder rate last year was nearly 43 per 100,000 residents. The murder rate in the U.S. in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, was about 5 per 100,000 residents, though several big cities in the U.S. have much higher homicide rates.
“We’re not here for entertainment, we cannot live in our country, we are just people like everyone else,” Honduran citizen Katerine Enamorado told the Union-Tribune as she clutched her year-old daughter.
The Pueblo Sin Fronteras Caravan began with about 1,000 people March 25 in the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border. It began making national headlines on Easter when Trump sent his first tweet about the group. The caravan swelled to nearly 2,000 people at one point earlier this month as the group slowly moved through Mexico, but for various reasons only about 200 have reached Tijuana.
Over the weekend, they engaged in legal orientation sessions to understand their rights and what to expect at the U.S. entrance, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Customs and Border Protection officials said on Saturday that some of the migrants in the caravan had tried to cross the border near San Ysidro since Friday. No estimate was given on the number of border-crossing attempts that had taken place.
Young children — and in one case, a pregnant woman — were detected among people trying to enter the U.S. illegally through “a dark, treacherous canyon that is notorious for human and drug smuggling,” CBP Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott said, adding that it was “unconscionable” that children were being smuggled into the country in what he referred to as dangerous conditions.
In the statement, he warned the remaining caravan members to follow the law.
“If anyone has encouraged you to illegally enter the United States, or make any false statements to U.S. government officials, they are giving you bad advice and they are placing you and your family at risk,” he said.
“We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door and answer questions honestly. On a national level that front door is the Ports of Entry. If you enter the United States at any place other than a Port of Entry it is a crime.”