It may not be as large as it once was, but it still remains controversial.
The bulk of the remaining members of the so-called “migrant caravan” have reached the Mexican border town of Tijuana with hundreds of migrants expected to make their way to the U.S. border this weekend and request asylum in order to enter the United States.
As many as 130 Central American asylum seekers began arriving in Tijuana on Tuesday. At least another 200 more are expected to join them in the coming days.
The migrants are staying at a shelter in Tijuana, with the group as a whole expected to make its way across the border Sunday morning to make their asylum claims.
The caravan, which once was estimated to be as large as 1,500 people, was organized by a group called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, which is Spanish for People Without Borders.
Approximately 50 members of the caravan began to arrive in Tijuana last week, with some already having entered the U.S. and asking for asylum.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. will strictly enforce immigration law when it comes to claims of asylum seekers.
“If members of the ‘caravan’ enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law,” Nielsen said in a statement. “For those seeking asylum, all individuals may be detained while their claims are adjudicated efficiently and expeditiously, and those found not to have a claim will be promptly removed from the United States.”
She also reminded caravan members that they can request asylum protection in Mexico.
“DHS encourages persons with asylum or other similar claims to seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico,” the statement said.
Immigrant rights groups say the migrants have an internationally recognized right to apply for asylum. Many of those in the caravan claim they are fleeing violence or persecution in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“We are asking the government and migration authorities to respect the right to seek asylum,” caravan organizer Irineo Mujica told the Associated Press. “Those who request asylum shouldn’t be criminalized. It is a right. … Families shouldn’t be separated or punished.”
Those who claim asylum will have to turn themselves in to U.S. immigration officials. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions said he may assign additional immigration judges to handle asylum claims from caravan members.
President Donald Trump has pressured the government of Mexico to take in members of the caravan, and has even threatened to make immigration control a condition of a new NAFTA trade pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
But Mexican officials have pushed back against including immigration matters into a trade deal.
“It would be unacceptable to condition the NAFTA negotiations on immigration actions that are outside that framework,” Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray said via Twitter. “Mexico decides its own immigration policy in a sovereign manner, and Mexico’s cooperation on immigration matters with the United States occurs because Mexico considers it in its own interest.”
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