A migrant caravan that began its journey through Mexico a month ago has reached the US border, where its arrival will set up a confrontation between the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies and US laws that require the United States to grant asylum to people with valid persecution claims.
A group of about 130 women and children arrived Tuesday afternoon in Mexicali, on the Mexican side of the US border, after an overnight bus trip from Hermosillo, in Mexico's Sonora state. They were expected to be followed by as many as 500 other migrants late Tuesday and Wednesday.
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."
That statement was countered by Amnesty International Tuesday morning, which pointed out that "seeking asylum is not a crime in the USA or anywhere."
"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."
Call said they told migrants who were going to seek asylum to ask for it in Tijuana because it was easier to get lawyers and legal assistants to go there to help than it was in Mexicali. Pueblos Sin Fronteras plans on holding additional legal workshops for migrants this week in Tijuana.
Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblos Sin Fronteras, said the right to refuge is established in US law.