SAN YSIDRO PORT OF ENTRY: Hopes rose on Tuesday among a caravan of migrants who travelled from Central America to seek asylum in the United States after US border authorities allowed the first small group of women and children entry from Mexico overnight.
Gathering people along the way, the caravan set off a month ago on a 3,220-km trek across Mexico to the US border, drawing attention from American news media after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to demand such groups not be granted entry and urging stronger immigration laws.
Celebrations erupted on Monday night among dozens of migrants camped near the US border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, after US officials admitted eight women and children, fuelling the determination of others to remain until they were admitted.
However, the US Department of Justice late on Monday announced what it described as the first prosecutions against members of the caravan, filing criminal charges against 11 migrants accused of entering the country illegally about 6 km west of the San Ysidro, California, border crossing.
“The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardised,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement announcing the charges.
The statement did not provide a figure on any other caravan members who might have also been detained.
On the asylum applicants, the Trump administration’s hands are tied by international rules obliging the United States to accept some applications. Most in the caravan said they were fleeing death threats, extortion and violence from powerful street gangs.
Dozens of members of the caravan slept in the open for a second cold desert night in the surroundings of the busy San Ysidro port of entry, after pumping fists and cheering the news late on Monday that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had opened the gate to eight women and children.
Those left behind said they would continue their sit-in until they were at least allowed to recount their stories to border officials and try to convince them that it was unsafe to go home. The caravan swelled to 1,500 people at one point but has since dwindled to a few hundred.
“We crossed the whole of Mexico,” said Angel Caceres, who said he fled Honduras with his 5-year-old son after his brother and nephew were murdered and his mother beaten and raped. They would stay, he said, “until the last person is in, as long as it takes.”
It was not clear when more of the group would be allowed to make their asylum bids. A CBP spokeswoman said the port of entry was congested with other undocumented immigrants, and that the caravan members might have to wait in Mexico temporarily. — Reuters