By Makayla Grijalva
WASHINGTON — Some critics of the migrant caravan seeking asylum question whether the trek was a publicity stunt rather than a way to escape persecution.
“This whole thing is a staged media event,” Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told TMN recently. “These people aren’t really asylum seekers, they are publicity seekers.”
Mehlman questions whether the migrants have a justified reason to seek asylum and thinks the Trump administration’s reaction to the caravan makes “it clear that we are not going to allow people to abuse our immigration and asylum system.”
“If they truly were asylum seekers, they would have sought asylum in the first safe country they came to,” Mehlman said. “They wouldn’t have gone 3,000 miles across Mexico without seeking some kind of protection either from the Mexican government or from international relief organizations.”
After traveling about 2,500 miles from the Mexico-Guatemala border to seek refuge in the United States, more than 200 members of a 300-person caravan — nearly all of them from Central America — were allowed to begin applying for asylum as of May 1, according to organizers. Many had to wait several nights before being allowed to apply for asylum. Many said they were fleeing gang violence.
“It is a little concerning how few of them have been allowed into apply for asylum so far,” Sarah Pierce, a Migration Policy Institute policy analyst, told TMN recently. “I am interested in hearing more from the government to why … that’s been such a slow process, because we do have a lot of resources at our southern border, especially considering the fact that the National Guard is there.”
A majority of the caravan arrived at the San Ysdiro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico on the night of April 29. Upon arrival, migrants were told the port had “reached capacity,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, and the migrants were forced to wait.
“We’re not going to let this country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters on May 1.
The Department of Justice announced on May 2 that it was sending 35 assistant US attorneys and 18 immigration judges to the southern border to faster process immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. legally.
“We are sending a message worldwide: Don’t come illegally. Make your claim to enter America in the lawful way and wait your turn,” Sessions added.
The Department of Justice said on May 1 that it had filed misdemeanor charges against 11 members of the caravan for illegal entry into the United States.
This is not the first migrant caravan to seek asylum in the United States. Pueblo Sin Fronteras organizes a caravan every year to help people escape the persecution or dangers they face in their home countries. Last year’s caravan only had about 200 participants compared to the nearly 1,200 that joined this year. Some migrants from this year made the decision to stay in Mexico.
The caravan at the U.S.-Mexico border has dissipated as their requests to seek asylum have been approved. Pueblo Sin Fronteras called their supporters to action on their Facebook page on May 8, now asking for Mexican officials to help protect the migrants which chose to stay in Mexico. They say a group of about 100 migrants will apply for asylum in the United States if their requests are not met.
President Donald Trump has referenced the caravan on multiple occasions, primarily on Twitter, as an example of why the U.S. needs stricter policies to combat illegal immigration.