- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

The illegal immigrant caravan has turned into a real standoff in Mexico.

The U.S. government says it’s all full-up at the San Ysidro port of entry and can’t process the caravan participants. They’ll have to wait their turn — or give up and remain in Mexico, or head home to Central America.

Caravan organizers, though, vow to outlast the U.S. government. They say they’re stunned American officials weren’t prepared to handle them, given that the caravan has made front page news for more than a month. But if it takes waiting in order to get in the asylum line, that’s what the caravan’s participants will do.

At the White House on Monday President Trump showed frustration with the situation, and seemed particularly peeved by photographs and video showing people associated with the caravan straddling the border fence in San Diego, taunting watchful U.S. authorities.

“We’re doing the best we can with it. But we have to have changes in Congress,” Mr. Trump said at a press conference alongside the president of Nigeria where he lamented the people who were able to mount the current fence. “We need a wall.”

The caravan, which mustered in southern Mexico in late March, has been winding its way north in the weeks since. Made up chiefly of Hondurans, the participants say they’re fleeing poor conditions at home, including gang violence, and say they deserve asylum in the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Thomas Homan, ICE chief: Illegal immigrant caravan stealing spots from deserving refugees

They arrived in Tijuana last week and on Sunday approached the San Ysidro port of entry into San Diego, the border’s busiest crossing, where they planned to formally ask to be admitted. U.S. officials, though, said they didn’t have the capacity to deal with the cases, and told the caravan it would have to wait — or leave.

“The number of inadmissible individuals we are able to process in a day varies based on the complexity of the cases, resources available, medical needs, translation requirements, holding/detention space, overall port volume and enforcement actions,” Customs and Border Protection said in a statement late Monday. “As in the past when we’ve had to limit the number of people we can bring in for processing at a given time, we expect that this will be a temporary situation.”

Caravan organizers blasted the standoff.

“Despite attempts by the local police and immigration agencies to persuade the families to leave the plaza, the group of mothers and fathers voted last night to remain in the plaza right outside the port of entry, until CBP is willing to follow the law and process their requests,” Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the organizer, announced on Facebook.

The group posted an email address and phone number for Sidney Aki, the port director for CBP, and urged supporters to send messages demanding action.

“CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and is able to detain, transport and incarcerate thousands of people in a day, but is pretending that they don’t have the ‘capacity’ to accept 150 refugee parents and children whose arrival has been anticipated and communicated weeks in advance,” Pueblo Sin Fronteras said.

SEE ALSO: Caravan members arrested after jumping U.S. border

Border agents said the caravan is playing it smart so far. If participants they had rushed the border, they could have been arrested for attempting to enter illegally. Instead they are waiting for permission to present themselves.

Both sides are acting within the law — leading to the standoff.

Speaking in California at a site where the Border Patrol is building more fencing, Vice President Mike Pence on Monday called the caravan participants “victims” — though he didn’t say they would get special treatment a victim might expect.

“I say this from my heart — every American should understand these people are victims,” he said. “They’re being exploited by open-border political activists and an agenda-driven media. And in far too many cases, on this day and every day that’s preceded it, men and women and children, like those gathered at our border today, are exploited by human smugglers and criminal and drug cartels who seize of their hardship and difficulty to undermine our laws and to profit for themselves.”

If caravan participants do get the present their claims, under the usual course of action they would be processed by CBP, then sent to an interview with an asylum officer from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If they express a “credible fear” of going back home they are allowed to make their case before an immigration judge.

But with a two-year backlog in asylum cases, and not enough detention space to hold them, they are usually let go into the communities while they await their cases. Only about 20 percent show up for their asylum hearings, Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said on C-SPAN Monday.

Trump administration officials have said they’re trying to handle the caravan differently, surging asylum officers and immigration judges to the border to handle the cases. They hope that if people see cases being rejected, others with bogus claims won’t bother to try.

Already, steady progress has been made in whittling down the caravan. What started off as about 1,500 people, according to organizers, is now down to 150.

Some 400 people were deported by Mexico, others were granted asylum in Mexico, and still others broke with the caravan and decided to jump the border illegally.

One source told The Washington Times that that from Friday through Monday morning more than 30 caravan participants had been caught entering illegally — chiefly in an area Border Patrol agents refer to as Goat Canyon.

Eleven people were charged Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced.

“The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized,” Mr. Sessions said.

In both cases — those planning to wait to attempt a legal entry and those who sneaked across — caravan organizers coached the participants on how to make their asylum claims, playing up the dangers they face back home.

Still, those that do play by the rules and show up for their hearings are likely to be disappointed. Only about one in five asylum-seekers from Honduras manage to win their cases.

Mexico offered asylum to many in the caravan, but some of them refused it, insisting they wanted to head to the U.S. instead. Analysts said that could complicate their cases since Mexico is considered a “safe country” where they could have sought asylum first.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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