Hundreds of migrants who continued the journey north after a “caravan” of Central American immigrants disbanded earlier this month after being singled out by President Trump have now reunited at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, Reuters reported. And if they have their druthers, many of them will be inside the US by the end of the weekend.
After crossing through Mexicali earlier this week, the migrants have been gathering in Tijuana since Tuesday. Most members of the group are from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, and are fleeing their homes, they say, because of death threats from local gangs, or political persecution.
So many migrants have arrived at the shelter in Tijuana this week that it was overflowing by the end of the day on Wednesday. While some rested in tents, others walked up to the border fence and looked across, giddy at the sight of American soil after a month-long journey across Mexico.
As Reuters pointed out, the timing of their arrival could sabotage NAFTA talks after President Trump repeatedly threatened to scrap the deal if Mexico doesn’t do more to stop Central American migrants from traveling through its territory.
Moving from town to town, the migrant caravan became a stumbling block for U.S.-Mexico relations after Trump unleashed a series of tweets in early April, telling Mexican authorities to stop them. More busloads of migrants arrived during the course of the day, overflowing the first shelter.
Local migrant aid groups said it was the biggest single group they had seen arrive together as they scrambled to find places in ten shelters.
“Thanks to god we’re here,” said 34-year-old Aide Hernandez from Guatemala who had four children in tow. She said she planned to seek asylum in the United State. When asked why, she looked down, ashamed to detail a case of domestic abuse.
“The wall doesn’t look that tall,” said Kimberly George, a 15-year-old girl from Honduras as she looked toward a stunted barrier a few feet away. “I really want to cross it.”
Volunteers from the US-based advocacy group Pueblos Sin Fronteras tried to gather the migrants to discuss a plan to cross over the main pedestrian bridge into the US. The crossing would take place on Sunday, according to the group’s plan. But the migrants responded angrily when the group recommended crossing in smaller in groups over a more spread-out period of time.
Meanwhile, president Trump has instructed the National Guard and the Border Patrol to arrest any migrants caught trying to sneak into US territory – a move that Pueblos Sin Fronteras says is illegal. The group insists that the migrants have the right under US law to declare asylum, a notion that has been vigorously rebutted by the administration which has sent national guard reinforcements to the border.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a stark warning to the first 120 who arrived, including some 50 minors: “If you enter our country illegally, you have broken the law and will be referred for prosecution,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. Nielsen also said those making false immigration claims or helping others to do so would also be prosecuted.
According to AFP, around 600 migrants are still traveling more or less together by hopping trains and taking buses.
The first two buses will be followed by three more, said organizer Irineo Mujica of the migrant rights group People Without Borders.
Around 200 migrants will seek asylum in the United States, fleeing brutal gang violence or political persecution in their home countries, he said. A handful of them have already been granted US asylum, Mujica told AFP.
But despite the threat, most are expected to try and cross into the US illegally: “It’s hard to say, they don’t tell you (they plan to sneak over the border). Some will, but probably not right now. There’s too much pressure because of the troops Trump sent to the border.”