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Customs And Border Protection Prepare As Thousands Of Caravan Migrants Arrive In Tijuana

Concertina wire placed at the U.S.- Mexico border by U.S. military personnel,...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Concertina wire placed at the U.S.- Mexico border by U.S. military personnel, Nov. 16, 2018.

UPDATE: 12:43 p.m., Nov. 19, 2018

Customs and Border Patrol officials temporarily closed some northbound traffic and pedestrian lanes at the San Ysidro border Monday morning.

Lanes were closed for nearly three hours starting at 3:15 a.m.

Officials said lanes were closed to "install additional port hardening materials at the port of entry, to include jersey barriers and concertina wire, to prepare for the potential arrival of thousands of people migrating in a caravan heading towards the border of the United States."

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Customs and Border Patrol officials say all 7,000 people in a caravan from Central America may end up in Tijuana, and they are getting ready for them to try to enter the U.S. In a media briefing, CBP said the high crime rates along the Texas-Mexico border deter a lot of migrants from attempting to enter there.

Rodney Scott, chief patrol agent for CBP for the San Diego sector, said they plan to arrest and prosecute anyone who illegally crosses the border.

"The job of the United States Border Patrol is to make sure that nobody comes into our home, into this nation, without coming through the front door, and we don’t discriminate. Anybody who jumps the fence, that crosses the ports of entry illegally, will be arrested and they will be prosecuted through the full extent of the law, and that includes this group," he said.

Preparing For First Arrivals

In anticipation of the first arrivals, Customs and Border Protection shut down three northbound lanes in San Ysidro and one in Otay Mesa this week, telling commuters to expect long delays. Officials say they don't know when the lanes will re-open, but don't anticipate it will happen until "sometime after people in the caravan arrive to the border," according to a press release.

CBP also conducted various vulnerability tests throughout the southwestern border, trying to figure out what infrastructure needed to be fixed in anticipation of the influx of migrants. Officials say they then prioritized which ports of entry and areas along the wall should be addressed first and relayed that information to the military officers leading the mission to help "harden" the border.

RELATED: Tijuana Mayor: Caravan Influx To Last At Least 6 Months

Wait Times for Asylum Seekers

CBP said it also has additional agents and officers on standby nationwide and will reassess staffing needs as the situation progresses. Officers said they can't predict how long wait times will be for asylum seekers.

"Port capacity depends on a number of factors including holding space, overall port volume of traffic, officer resources, complexity of cases, medical needs, translation requirements and enforcement actions. Our processing facilities can efficiently hold for processing about 300 persons at one time depending on the demographic, characteristics of the individuals, group, or families that request asylum," said Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP.

Military Response

CBP is working with 1,100 military troops in California that have been deployed to help respond to the caravan. Many are Army engineers who are putting up concertina wire on the wall and erecting concrete barriers at ports of entry.

"We’re helping to harden the border, so we're taking military engineers and helping to control access to the ports and deter access between the ports. We’re providing medical support to take care of both military troops and CBP personnel," said Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan with U.S. Army North, who is leading the operation along the border.

Buchanan said that while military police are also deployed along the border, their job is to protect the troops and not to enforce immigration law.

"We use the minimum amount of force necessary to control any situation," Buchanan said.

RELATED: More Caravan Migrants Arrive In Tijuana, Brace For Long Stay

Potential for Violence

CBP officials said they are also following social media and coordinating with local law enforcement to monitor any potential protests, gatherings or militia activity along the border.

Flores said they will consider completely shutting down the ports of entry if they need to. He said CBP's top priority is the safety of the people crossing the border and of CBP officers. Officials said they have been monitoring the caravan closely and are changing the tactics they are planning to respond to the caravan accordingly.

"That caravan the last time was very, very coordinated, so are these, but the coordinators seem to have some different tactics. We did not see the violence portrayed by that last caravan that we’re seeing with this one," said Rodney Scott, chief patrol agent for CBP for the San Diego sector. "I’m sure you guys have seen the videos when these groups - and there are multiple groups - crossed into Mexico and basically overran the Mexican police and the Mexican military forces. So yes, we’re preparing for a different dynamic."

Customs and Border Protection and the troops deployed on the border are getting ready to handle the influx of asylum seekers and migrants who have already started arriving in Tijuana this week.

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