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Central Americans Will Seek Asylum At Southern US Border

A crowd gathers on the beach in Playas de Tijuana, April 29, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
A crowd gathers on the beach in Playas de Tijuana, April 29, 2018.

UPDATE: 2:54 p.m., April 29, 2018:

U.S. officials say San Diego's border crossing has reached capacity even before a caravan of Central American migrants criticized by the Trump administration began to seek asylum.

A statement Sunday from U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the nation's busiest border crossing can take in additional people as space and resources become available.

In a written statement, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said, "At this time, we have reached capacity at the San Ysidro port of entry for CBP officers to be able to bring additional persons traveling without appropriate entry documentation into the port of entry for processing. Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, those individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities. As sufficient space and resources become available, CBP officers will be able to take additional individuals into the port for processing. CBP will communicate with Mexican authorities for operational awareness on this issue of capacity within CBP facilities as appropriate."

Officials had warned that San Diego's San Ysidro crossing may not be able to take asylum seekers if it faces too many at once. The agency has said the port can hold about 300 people temporarily.

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m., April 29, 2018:

Organizers say nearly 200 Central American migrants who traveled in a caravan of asylum-seekers to the U.S.-Mexico border have decided to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

Bliss Requa-Trautz of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network says they're getting a final briefing Sunday before heading to the San Diego border crossing to seek asylum.

If border inspectors say they don't have staff and space to accommodate that many people at once, organizers say they'll put women with children and children traveling alone at the front of the line. The rest will stay in Mexico and try another day.

Heather Crone of advocacy group Show Up for Racial Justice says she's found 80 people across the U.S. who agreed to sponsor caravan members if they're released while their petitions are pending.

Asylum-seekers are often released to family in the U.S. but some don't have any and seek sponsors.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m., April 29, 2018:

Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego are receiving final information before they turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

Caravan organizers gave the migrants a final briefing Sunday that was closed to the media before they head to the nation's busiest border crossing to seek asylum.

President Donald Trump has been tracking the caravan, calling it a threat to the U.S.

Wendi Yaneri Garcia says she's confident she'll be released while her asylum case is pending because she's traveling alone with a 2-year-old son who's been sick.

The 36-year-old said police in her hometown of Atlantida, Honduras, jailed her for protesting construction of a hydroelectric plant. She says she received death threats after being released.

She says she just wants to work and raise her son and was excited to try her luck in the U.S.

UPDATE: 12:05 p.m., April 29, 2018:

Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego have left a cross-border rally as they prepare to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

Hundreds of migrants in five old school buses planned to eat lunch Sunday before making a roughly 15-minute walk to San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, the nation's busiest. Many are fleeing violence in their home countries and will ask the U.S. for asylum.

The caravan got attention after President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet called it a threat to the United States.

Supporters rallied on both sides of the border with a fence between them. Some climbed the wall to sit or wave signs under the watchful eyes of U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Eduardo Olmos, a San Diego-area Border Patrol spokesman, said agents have the discretion to charge fence climbers with unlawful entry into the U.S. But he said because of the size of the crowd agents would have reacted only if someone jumped over the fence.

UPDATE: 11:15 a.m., April 29, 2018:

With people rallying on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to support a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers, one of those planning to turn herself in to U.S. authorities says she feels hopeful.

Maria de Los Angeles said Sunday that she felt confident after speaking with an attorney that she'd be released while her case winds through the courts because she was traveling alone with her 1-year-old son.

The 17-year-old hoped to move in with a sister in San Francisco and said she believed "everything will work out." She said she fled her home in Honduras because the father of her son threatened to kill her and their child.

President Donald Trump has been tracking the caravan, calling it a threat to the U.S.

Some supporters have climbed the wall separating San Diego and Tijuana to sit or wave signs under the watchful eyes of U.S. Border Patrol agents.

A group of demonstrators sit on the border fence in Playas de Tijuana, in Mexico, onlooking Friendship Park in San Diego, April 29, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
A group of demonstrators sit on the border fence in Playas de Tijuana, in Mexico, onlooking Friendship Park in San Diego, April 29, 2018.

UPDATE: 10:45 a.m., April 29, 2018:

Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego and their supporters are rallying on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Before buses arrived at the rally Sunday at a fence that reaches to the ocean, about 100 supporters on the Mexican side of the border marched along the beach, shouting "Alerta" (attention) to the sound of a drumbeat.

More than a dozen climbed a roughly 18-foot-high border wall under the watchful eyes of Border Patrol agents. About 50 supporters watched on the U.S. side, where they were held about 20 yards away.

President Donald Trump has been tracking the caravan, calling it a threat to the U.S.

The Central Americans will test the administration's tough rhetoric when they begin seeking asylum at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing.

UPDATE: 10:05 a.m., April 29, 2018:

Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego have filled five old school buses as they prepare to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

People left a downtown Tijuana migrant shelter Sunday where they have been staying. Asked how he felt as he boarded the bus, Nefi Hernandez replied, "Nervous."

Police with flashing lights escorted the buses through the streets of Tijuana to a cross-border rally on the beach, with supporters gathering on the U.S. side of the fence.

President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet have been tracking the caravan, calling it a threat to the U.S.

The Central Americans will test the administration's tough rhetoric when they begin seeking asylum at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, the nation's busiest.

Original story:

U.S. immigration lawyers are telling Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego that they face possible separation from their children and detention for many months. They say they want to prepare them for the worst possible outcome.

"We are the bearers of horrible news," Los Angeles lawyer Nora Phillips said during a break from legal workshops for the migrants at three Tijuana locations where about 20 lawyers gave free information and advice. "That's what good attorneys are for."

RELATED: Central American Asylum-Seekers Continue To Arrive In Tijuana

The Central Americans, many traveling as families, on Sunday will test the Trump administration's tough rhetoric criticizing the caravan when the migrants begin seeking asylum by turning themselves in to border inspectors at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, the nation's busiest.

President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet have been tracking the caravan, calling it a threat to the U.S. since it started March 25 in the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border. They have promised a stern, swift response.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the caravan "a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system," pledging to send more immigration judges to the border to resolve cases if needed.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said asylum claims will be resolved "efficiently and expeditiously" but said the asylum-seekers should seek it in the first safe country they reach, including Mexico.

Any asylum-seekers making false claims to U.S. authorities could be prosecuted as could anyone who assists or coaches immigrants on making false claims, Nielsen said. Administration officials and their allies claim asylum fraud is growing and that many who seek it are coached on how to do so.

Kenia Elizabeth Avila, 35, appeared shaken after the volunteer attorneys told her Friday that temperatures may be cold in temporary holding cells and that she could be separated from her three children, ages 10, 9 and 4.

But she in said an interview that returning to her native El Salvador would be worse. She fled for reasons she declined to discuss.

RELATED: Father Seeking Asylum In U.S. Struggles To Reunite With 1-Year-Old Taken By Immigration Officials

"If they're going to separate us for a few days, that's better than getting myself killed in my country," she said.

The San Ysidro crossing, which admits about 75,000 people a day into the country, may be unable to take asylum-seekers if it faces too many at once, forcing people to wait in Mexico until it has more room, according to Pete Flores, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's San Diego field office director. Flores said earlier this month that the port can hold about 300 people temporarily.

The Border Patrol said "several groups" of people in the caravan have entered the country illegally since Friday by climbing a dilapidated metal fence. It didn't say how many people.

Since Congress failed to agree on a broad immigration package in February, administration officials have made it a legislative priority to end what they call "legal loopholes" and "catch-and-release" policies that allow asylum-seekers to be released from custody while their claims wind through the courts in cases that can last for year.

The lawyers who went to Tijuana denied coaching any of the roughly 400 people in the caravan who recently arrived in Tijuana, camping out in shelters near some of the city's seedier bars and bordellos.

Some migrants received one-on-one counseling to assess the merits of their cases and groups of the migrants with their children playing nearby were told how asylum works in the U.S.

Asylum-seekers are typically held up to three days at the border and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If they pass an asylum officer's initial screening, they may be detained or released with ankle monitors.

Nearly 80 percent of asylum-seekers passed the initial screening from October through December, the latest numbers available, but few are likely to eventually win asylum.

Mexicans fared worst among the 10 countries that sent the largest numbers of U.S. asylum seekers from 2012 to 2017, with a denial rate of 88 percent, according to asylum outcome records tracked by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse. El Salvadorans were close behind with a 79 percent denial rate, followed by Hondurans at 78 percent and Guatemalans at 75 percent.

Evelyn Wiese, a San Francisco immigration attorney, said she tried to make migrants more comfortable sharing memories of the dangers they faced in their homelands.

"It's really scary to tell these experiences to a stranger," Wiese said after counseling a visibly shaken Guatemalan woman at an art gallery in a building that used to house a drug smuggling tunnel into San Diego. "The next time she tells her story will be easier."

Nefi Hernandez, who planned to seek asylum with his wife and infant daughter was born on the journey through Mexico, worried he could be kept in custody away from his daughter. But his spirits lifted when he learned he might be released with an ankle bracelet.

Hernandez, 24, said a gang in his hometown of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, threatened to kill him and his family if he did not sell drugs.

Jose Cazares, 31, said he faced death threats in the northern Honduran city of Yoro because a gang member suspected of killing the mother of his children learned one of Cazares' sons reported the crime to police.

"One can always make up for lost time with a child, but if they kill him, you can't," he said outside his dome-shaped tent in a migrant shelter near the imposing U.S. border barriers separating San Diego from Tijuana.

RELATED: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

Corrected:
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.