Despite President Trump's threat to make stopping migrants from Central America a condition of a revised NAFTA agreement, the second part of a caravan of migrants arrived Tuesday afternoon in the border state of Mexicali, Buzzfeed reported, after refusing the Mexican government's offer to let them stay in Mexico.
Mexico, whose laws on immigration are very tough, must stop people from going through Mexico and into the U.S. We may make this a condition of the new NAFTA Agreement. Our Country cannot accept what is happening! Also, we must get Wall funding fast.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2018
The migrants, who arrived following a bus trip from the city of Hermosillo, located in the Mexican state of Sonora, are expected to be followed by as many as 500 more Tuesday night and Wednesday - setting them up for a showdown with national guard soldiers and ICE agents who have been instructed to stop them from entering the country.
While media attention to the caravan has dropped in recent weeks, the Trump administration has been keeping a watchful eye on the caravan's progress. Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said Monday that her agency was monitoring "the remnants" of the caravan.
"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."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also issued a statement Monday, saying the migrants and "their smugglers" had ignored the willingness of the Mexican government to allow them to stay in Mexico.
"Our nation has the most generous immigration system in the world, but this is a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system. There is no right to demand entry without justification," Sessions said in a statement. "Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is essential to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens. But, as President Trump has warned, the need to fix these loopholes and weaknesses in our immigration system is critical and overdue."
Unsurprisingly, the expanded federal border enforcement has drawn the ire of immigrants rights groups, who are accusing the federal government of ignoring asylum laws.
"The efforts of US officials to tarnish asylum seekers as criminals are cynical fabrications that ring hollow," the statement said, attributing the comment to Erika Guevara Rosas, the group's Americas director.
Officials of Pueblos Sin Fronteras, the volunteer group that organized the caravan, have said throughout the journey that migrants have the right to ask the US for asylum and that the United States must grant them the opportunity to do so.
Tristan Call, an organizer with Pueblos Sin Fronteras, said the US is trying to punish people who have a right to ask for asylum.
"The United States is punishing them so they won't be able to get asylum," Call told reporters outside Hotel del Migrante, a migrant shelter in Mexicali. "They're punishing the most vulnerable people. These are people who the last thing they saw was their home in ashes. The last thing they saw was a funeral."
Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblos Sin Fronteras, said the right to refuge is established in US law.
Some in the migrant caravan have already moved on to Tijuana, their final destination in Mexico before they attempt the treacherous crossing. Nearly all of the caravan's members - who once numbered more than 1,000 - are fleeing violence in Central America. Many are from Honduras, where gangs control virtually every aspect of daily life.
Despite the long journey, one family beamed with excitement while speaking with a New York Times reporter, expressing their excitement that the US border fence was only miles away.
"Well, this is incredible," said Bryan Claros, 20, a migrant from El Salvador who was traveling with his younger brother, Luis, and their stepfather, Andres Rodríguez.
From where they were standing, on the broken sidewalk outside the Hotel del Migrantes shelter, they could see the steel border fence two blocks away and the tops of lamp posts and buildings on the other side, in Calexico, Calif.
They had fled El Salvador because of a gang’s death threats, they said, and were planning to apply for asylum when they crossed into the United States from Tijuana. Organizers had encouraged participants to seek asylum at Tijuana rather than Mexicali because it was easier to arrange for volunteer lawyers.
"We’ve almost arrived in the United States," Mr. Claros said, smiling broadly at his brother. But then he considered the legal road ahead, and his smile faded.
The group of migrants set off from Tapachula, Mexico on March 25 and moved north en masse by foot, or by hopping on buses or stowing away on trains.
In its early days, the group was the largest migrant caravan on record, according to NYT. Of the ones that remain, organizers of the caravan expect between 100 and 300 to petition for asylum.