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Central Americans From Migrant Caravan Arrive At U.S. Border To Find Crossing At Capacity


Roughly 200 people from Central America are in Tijuana, Mexico. They're hoping to cross the U.S. border and apply for asylum here. They are what's left of the so-called caravan of migrants that drew President Trump's wrath on Twitter.

And it is not clear when or if they will set foot in the United States. The U.S. government says the closest port of entry is already full. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Tijuana. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Hey. So I gather a lot of these people are camped out. Can you just describe what it looks like - what the scene has been like there where you are?

KAHN: Sure. They're in a lot of different places. They're staying in shelters. There's a lot of cheap hotels that cater to migrants right by the border fence and the border crossing. Last night, a group of about 40, including women and children, spent the night on the sidewalk.

It's a - there's a gate that you go through if you're a pedestrian, and you can walk over from Tijuana to the U.S. port of entry. And that is right at San Ysidro, the southern part of San Diego County. So they were all sleeping on the sidewalk right there in front of the gate at the port of entry.

And U.S. officials told them that they were full up and couldn't process them. The migrants say they'll stay here in Tijuana, keep up the pressure and stay put until they get their chance to press their case with a U.S. immigration official.

KELLY: And when you talk to them, what do they say about why they've come? What kind of stories are they telling you?

KAHN: Oh, there's a whole lot of different stories. Some people have joined the caravan just to travel north through Mexico because they think it's safer in a bigger group. But the 200 migrants that have come to Tijuana to cross into the U.S. and ask for asylum, most of them come from Honduras and El Salvador, and a lot of them just have these harrowing stories.

I spoke to one woman from El Salvador whose 15-year-old daughter was kidnapped and held for two days by gang members who repeatedly raped her. It was a horrible story, talking to her mother. And she just fled with her two daughters, and she's here.

Another woman, also from El Salvador, told me about being threatened with death if she didn't act as a lookout for the gang. She just told me this - what they told her she had to do was if they had picked somebody - targeted somebody that they were going to kill by the gang, she had to go to their house, like, an hour earlier to make sure they were there, and they were ready for the assassins to come. And she just refused to do it, and she was threatened with death. And she's here with her 6-year-old daughter trying to seek asylum.

KELLY: So, Carrie, you're describing this dramatic standoff, now with some of these people actually sleeping on the sidewalk at the border. What are their prospects? What would they have to do to try to get their case heard and get into the U.S.?

KAHN: It's a very high bar to get asylum in the U.S. Asylum-seekers have to prove a well-founded fear of persecution based on, you know, being of certain categories. And for a lot of these immigrants, it might be hard for them to reach that standard.

One of the lawyers I spoke with that had spent the weekend in counseling some of the migrants here said she had heard cases that seemed to be credible claims, but just saying the country you come from is dangerous or poor is not enough to be granted asylum. And for Central Americans, it's been tough.

Rejection rates are high. Their chances do improve immensely if they have a lawyer, and it depends on what part of the country your asylum case is heard. Some regions and certain judges have exceptionally high rejection rates.

KELLY: Given that this particular group of migrants have been so controversial, making national headlines here, partly because of the president's tweets about them, is it clear to you whether they are being treated differently from other asylum-seekers who you've reported on in the past?

KAHN: Well, advocates here for them would say, yes. They say - they're accusing the Trump administration of playing hardball with this group of asylum-seekers. And they point to how the migrants were told even before they attempted to reach the border crossing that U.S. officials were full up and wouldn't even see them. That was a bit unusual, especially since, you know, as you said, the Trump administration has been following this group for weeks.

KELLY: Right. They knew they were coming.

KAHN: They knew they were coming.

KELLY: And what does the U.S. say about why they're full up and can't process them?

KAHN: They say that they've had a lot of asylum claims. They're not going into a lot of detail, and we're waiting to hear back from them.

KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting from Tijuana, Mexico, near the U.S. border. Thanks, Carrie.

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.
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