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Viacrucis Caravan Asylum Seekers Held After Entering US At San Ysidro

Asylum seekers who are part of the Viacrucis caravan travel through Mexico in...

Credit: Alex Mensing

Above: Asylum seekers who are part of the Viacrucis caravan travel through Mexico in this undated photo.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is holding a group of nearly 80 asylum seekers who want to raise awareness about challenges faced by people escaping violence in Latin America.

A group of 78 asylum seekers awaits interviews at the San Ysidro Port of Entry after weeks of trekking in a caravan through Mexico to raise awareness about the plight of people fleeing violence.

The migrants, mostly Central Americans, turned themselves into U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) this Sunday after the trip through Mexico with activists.

They organized the caravan in part to bring attention to the dangers migrants face in the journey through Mexico as well as challenges faced at the U.S.-Mexico border.

RELATED: Asylum 101: Different Pathways Asylum-Seekers, Refugees Take To Reach The US

Immigration attorney Nicole Ramos, who is representing 20 of the families, said that in violation of U.S. and international law, CBP has been turning away asylum seekers.

“That’s not CBP’s job – CBP does not have the authority to make evaluations on what the asylum claim is,” Ramos said. “Their only function is to refer to the asylum office for a credible fear interview.”

CBP denied the agency sends asylum seekers back without interviews. The agency issued the following statement in an email:

"The United States has long adhered to international laws and conventions allowing people to seek asylum on grounds that they are being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or other factors. If an officer or agent encounters a U.S.-bound migrant without legal papers and the person expresses fear of being returned to his/her home country, our officers process them for an interview with an asylum officer. If during this interview, an applicant expresses fear of being returned to their home country, our officers are required to process them for an interview with an asylum officer. CBP officers are not authorized to determine or evaluate the validity of the fear expressed. The applicant does not have to specifically request asylum, they simply must express fear of being returned to their country.”

The agency also said it is aware of the "large group of individuals at the San Ysidro Port of Entry" that is seeking asylum and said the asylum seekers will be processed on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. immigration law dictates that people who asks a CBP officer for asylum have the right to a “credible fear” screening by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). According to the USCIS website, asylum seekers get a green light in the screening if they can establish that they “have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of (their) race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” if returned to their country.

Some of the caravan’s family members are concerned about how they are are being treated in CBP custody. Los Angeles resident Dolores Ramirez traveled to the border on Tuesday to try to get information about her relatives in the caravan. She said she had received one phone call from a relative who complained of the conditions inside.

“They’re only getting 10 minutes to eat, they have no blankets, they’re sleeping on the floor in cells, they’re being yelled at,” she said. “They shouldn’t be treated like animals, they’re not animals, they didn’t cross the border illegally, they’re seeking help.”

CBP agents told Ramirez they could not disclose information on the individuals in custody because they needed to protect their privacy, but added that they were receiving adequate care.

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