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Caravan Of Central American Migrants Seeking Asylum Hope To Cross Border


Now to the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of people from Central America have gathered in hopes of crossing into the U.S. Many say they are fleeing from violence in Honduras and El Salvador and hope to present themselves to U.S. officials to ask for asylum. The so-called migrant caravan has attracted much media attention and the hostility of President Trump. U.S. officials say they will prosecute anybody who makes a false claim. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Tijuana, Mexico, and she's with us now.

Carrie, thanks so much for joining us.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So Carrie, you're there with the caravan. We understand that U.S. officials are saying that the main San Diego border crossing can't accept any more asylum-seekers tonight. What does that mean? And what do you see?

KAHN: I am standing on the Mexican side right in front of the U.S. border crossing in Tijuana, and a group of about 40 migrants from the caravan walked into the U.S. port of entry. They were told that they could not be accepted. That's what we heard from American officials. But they went on their own into the building, and they entered in there, so we'll see what happens. But that is the word from the Customs and Border Protection, that they can - they're at full capacity, that they can no longer accept people presenting themselves at the port of entry without legal authorization to enter the United States.

MARTIN: So what happens now? Are these people expected to turn around? Are they going to try again tomorrow? What happens now?

KAHN: Well, a lot of the people that are here said that they - their intention is to stay in Mexico. There is a line of about 200 migrants now that say that they want to go and ask for political asylum, but there's many more that are going to stay in Mexico. But it's going to take a while. I remember back last year when there was a influx of Haitian refugees that were going into the United States, and the port officials here at the U.S. side of the port said that they could only accept 30 - 20 to 30 a day. And so the Haitians waited here months in Tijuana, Mexico, and many of them ultimately decided to stay here. So that seems to be what's happening right now. There's just a limited capacity at this port of entry of how many people that they can take that are seeking political asylum.

MARTIN: Now, you've been there all day. What are some of the people that you have spoken with told you about why they're seeking asylum?

KAHN: You hear a whole lot of different stories. There's a couple hundred people here. And so a lot of the people are from Honduras. Many of those people from Honduras say that what is happening in the country right now is political instability ever since the presidential elections in November of last year, which were resoundingly decried as fraudulent. And they say since then, there has been a lot of political instability in the country and increasing violence. The people from El Salvador are facing a equally violent situation. They talk about horrific stories just of being extorted by gangs, being threatened for their lives and just leaving the country with what they have carried - the clothes on their backs and what they have been able to carry with them.

MARTIN: And what are U.S. officials saying about this group of migrants seeking asylum? The Trump administration has been following the movements of the caravan. They've made that very clear. And they've said that anybody making a false claim or entering the U.S. illegally will be prosecuted. Has that message been received? And has that done anything to deter people wanting to come in?

KAHN: Yeah, they've heard that message loud and clear. The Department of Homeland Security secretary said that they will prosecute anybody who tries to enter illegally or makes a false asylum claim. There were U.S. lawyers, volunteer lawyers that were down here the last couple days counseling the immigrants and telling them about what their rights are under the asylum laws and what they need to prove their asylum cases. A lot of people said, you know, maybe they'll just stay in Mexico and try and get refugee or asylum claims here in Mexico. But a lot of people - still, I can see there are 200 people right here at the port of entry lining up, and they feel like they have credible asylum claims. One woman told me that she - there's no reason for her to lie. The lawyer told her that she must tell the truth, and she feels like she has a credible claim. She came from El Salvador, fleeing the gangs there, where she was threatened, and she's going to try and cross.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tijuana. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.