At the current pace, members of both groups are still weeks away from arriving at the closest US/Mexico port of entry which is in McAllen, Texas. The caravans stopped for a break over the weekend in the town of San Pedro Tapanatepec, which is in the state of Chiapas. This puts the groups a little over 1,000 miles from Texas.
The migrants left October 12th from an area near the border of Guatemala and Honduras. 24 days later they ended up at the Mexican border. Most of the group is from Honduras. They claim they live in crime-infested neighborhoods, have few to no job prospects and have lost faith in their government. People from Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are also in the caravan.
HOW MANY ARE COMING?
It’s hard to say and it depends on who you ask. Organizers on the ground estimate the crowd at 10,000. Mexican government officials say it’s closer to 3,700 +/-. Mexican officials also say more than 1,500 have applied for asylum with at least 150 or so turning back to go home.
A Customs and Border Protection official said on Monday that there are approximately 3,500 people in one group, which is currently at the Chiapas-Oaxaca border in southern Mexico. A second group of about 3,000 migrants is at the border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED AT THE MEXICO BORDER?
Video shows some migrants using force to break through a border fence and overpower Mexican border guards. Other video shows a group crossing the Suchiate River in to Mexico while a helicopter above attempted to force the group back to the other shore.
Some reports from the scene say people were heard saying they would not be stopped from reaching the United States.
Mexican officials said they would do what they could to deter the group from going further into Mexico, but the largest portion of the caravan made its way through the border port of entry and onto a path through the state of Chiapas. The Mexican border agency, Grupos Beta, did what it could to lend aid and comfort.
WHAT WILL THE NATIONAL GUARD DO AT THE BORDER?
Well, that’s the million dollar question. Some believe troops are being sent there as a show of force to intimidate any suspected illegal border crossers, and that seeing images of the military along the border might stop anyone from trying to come over the line.
President Trump tweeted yesterday morning, "Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!"
I spoke with the National Guard on Friday and officials told me the troops sent there in May are strictly on a support mission. When a similar mission, Operation Jumpstart, happened years ago I went down there to see firsthand what the soldiers were doing. They were doing daily grind-type tasks, vehicle repairs and maintenance, engineering tasks, observe and report, and assisting border agents with certifying on their weapons.
As a condition for sending troops in May, Governor Brown made it very clear - under no circumstances are California Guard troops to assist in the apprehension, detention or arrest of anyone crossing the border illegally. As of Monday, it’s not clear how many more California troops will be deployed to the border.
A California lawmaker told me that troops can only get the power to make an arrest with the approval of Congress. But, a Governor may have the ability to give troops arrest powers if they alone, and not the Feds, deploy the troops to the border. 2,100 troops were sent in May to Arizona, Texas and California. On Monday it was announced 5,000 more would be sent for support.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SOMEONE ARRIVES AT A U.S. PORT OF ENTRY?
If they claim asylum they’ll be processed and seen by medical professionals. A specially trained customs agent will interview them to determine the validity of their claim. If they pass that phase they will be detained pending a court hearing, or a meeting with a judge.
If they don’t pass the initial interview stage they could be deported back to their home country. If a migrant tries to cross the border illegally they will be treated differently because the crime of crossing illegally, in most cases, trumps an asylum claim. They would most likely be on a fast track for deportation, sometimes within a few hours.
I’ve been with border agents when an illegal immigrant is arrested in the morning, deported midday and caught again that night. When the last caravan arrived in Tijuana in January I was there at the pedestrian gate into the U-S when customs agents refused to allow entry to some 200+ people. It took a little over a week to process the group. They camped out in front of the gate the entire time.
You can hear an overview of that day in a report I did for Wake Up Call and the Bill Handel Show.
WILL FAMILIES BE SEPARATED AGAIN?
The short answer is, yes. But, how they’re treated may be modified because of the outrage in January. The current system does not allow for families to be detained together. Plus, officials say they cannot house women and children with men, especially if the men have a criminal past. Many are housed for months before they can see a judge, and according to agents, those who are released on their own recognizance to a sponsor family never show up to court and are absorbed into society.
Agents tell me this is the most preferred method of entering the country illegally. Border and Customs agents tell me dealing with families is very tricky because some lie about their situation. Some families are created out of thin air to help escort or smuggle multiple kids, men and women in at once. And, since, in most cases, there is no accompanying paperwork, identification or supporting documents.
A person’s best chance at advancing into the system is to convince the customs agent of their validity. This is not to say there are not very legitimate situations and people who deserve a chance at an asylum hearing, it’s just that border and customs agents say they cannot handle the mass of people, many of whom are simply trying to game the system.
Stay tuned for my upcoming series on the point of view of border agents who are the first people who encounter illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
Videos and Color stills – Caravan organizers
Black and White stills – Mark Mennie, exclusive to KFI-AM.