U.S. says border crossing didn’t have room for Central American asylum seekers
A Central American child who is traveling with a caravan of migrants sleeps at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 29, 2018. U.S. immigration lawyers are telling Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego that they face possible separation from their children and detention for many months.(Hans-Maximo Musielik / AP)
A member of the Central American migrant caravan, holding a child, looks through the border wall toward a group of people gathered on the U.S. side, as he stands on the beach where the border wall ends in the ocean in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 29, 2018.(Hans-Maximo Musielik / AP)
A Central American child who is traveling with a caravan of migrants peers from a bus carrying the group to the border wall for a gathering of migrants living on both sides of the border in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 29, 2018. The sign reads in Spanish: “We’re all brother countries from the Americas. Free transit. Stop the deportations.”(Hans-Maximo Musielik / AP)
Pro-migrant caravan demonstrators stage a rally in on April 29, 2018, at the US-Mexico Border in San Ysidro, Calif. The U.S. has threatened to arrest Central American migrants if they try to sneak in from the U.S.-Mexico border where they have gathered, prompting President Donald Trump to order troop reinforcements on the frontier.(Sandy Huffaker / AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-migrant caravan demonstrators rally at the west end of the U.S.-Mexico border as pro-migrant demonstrators climb the border wall from the Mexican side of the wall on April 29, 2018 in San Diego, Calif.(Bill Wechter / Getty Images)
Pro-migrant caravan demonstrators rally on the Mexican side of the border wall on April 29, 2018, neaar San Diego, Calif.(Bill Wechter / Getty Images)
People climb a section of border fence to look toward supporters in the U.S. as members of a caravan of Central American asylum seekers arrive to a rally on April 29, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico.(David McNew / Getty Images)
Carlos Antonio Aguilera, an asylum seeker from Honduras, runs toward the border fence on the beach as a caravan of Central American asylum seekers arrive to a rally on April 29, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico.(David McNew / Getty Images)
People hold Honduran flags at the border fence during a rally with members of a caravan of Central American asylum seekers and supporters on April 29, 2018, in Tijuana, Mexico.(David McNew / Getty Images)
People post welcome signs on the border fence at a rally with members of a caravan of Central American asylum seekers and supporters on April 29, 2018, in Tijuana, Mexico.(David McNew / Getty Images)
A Central American migrant boy traveling with a caravan of asylum seekers removes sand from his shoes during a demonstration at the U.S.-Mexico Border at Tijuana’s beaches on April 29, 2018.(Guillermo Arias / AFP/Getty Images)
After traveling through Mexico with great fanfare for a month under the Trump administration’s watchful eye, nearly 200 Central American migrants attempting to seek asylum in the United States were stopped in their tracks when border inspectors said that a crossing facility didn’t have enough space to accommodate them.
Trump vowed last week to “stop” the caravan while Cabinet members said they would deliver a swift response. The asylum seekers held firm, setting up a possible showdown.
In an anticlimactic twist, about 50 asylum seekers were allowed past a gate controlled by Mexican officials to walk across a long bridge but were stopped at the entrance to the U.S. inspection facility at the other end. They were allowed to wait outside the building, technically on Mexican soil, without word of when U.S. officials would let them claim asylum.
Another 50 or so camped on blankets and backpacks in Tijuana outside the Mexican side of the crossing, prohibited from even getting close to the U.S. inspection building.
The asylum-seekers began the day with anticipation, traveling in red-and-white school buses under police escort to a beachfront rally in Tijuana, where a steel fence juts out into the Pacific Ocean. They sang the Honduran national anthem, and supporters on the San Diego side of the fence waved a Honduran flag.
After a final briefing from lawyers and minutes before they were to begin a short walk to the border crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced that the San Ysidro border crossing, the nation’s busiest, had “reached capacity” for people without legal documents and that asylum-seekers may need to wait in Mexico temporarily.
Trump has commented frequently on the caravan since it started in Mexico on March 25 near the Guatemala border and headed north to Tijuana. His broadsides came as his administration vowed to end what officials call “legal loopholes” and “catch-and-release” policies that allow people requesting asylum to be released from custody into the U.S. while their claims make their way through the courts, which can take years.
The administration’s stern warnings left organizers in disbelief that border inspectors were not ready for them.
“They have been well aware that a caravan is going to arrive at the border,” Nicole Ramos, an attorney working on behalf of caravan members, said at a news conference. “The failure to prepare and failure to get sufficient agents and resources is not the fault of the most vulnerable among us. We can build a base in Iraq in under a week. We can’t process 200 refugees. I don’t believe it.”
The San Ysidro border inspection facility can hold about 300 people, according to Pete Flores, Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office director, suggesting the bottleneck may be short-lived. The agency processed about 8,000 asylum cases from October through February, or about 50 a day.
Asylum-seekers are typically held for up to three days at the border and then turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If they pass an asylum officer’s initial screening, they may be detained or released into the U.S. with ankle monitors.
Asylum seekers didn’t appear to be thrown off the by the delay.
Wendi Yaneri Garcia said she was confident she will be released while her asylum case is pending because she is traveling alone with her 2-year-old son, who has been sick. She said that police in her hometown of Atlantida, Honduras, jailed her for protesting construction of a hydroelectric plant and that she received death threats after being released.
“All I want is a place where I can work and raise my son,” the 36-year-old said.
Elin Orrellana, a 23-year-old pregnant woman from El Salvador, said she is fleeing the violent MS-13 street gang, a favorite target of both Sessions and Trump because of their brutal killings in communities in the United States. She said her older sister had been killed by the gang in El Salvador, so she is attempting to join other family members in the Kansas City area.
“Fighting on is worth it,” she said as she camped out for chilly night outside the border crossing.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.