Trump officials warn of arrests as migrant caravan reaches US border with Mexico

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 10:30pm

Hundreds of Central American migrants from a caravan through Mexico reunited in Tijuana on Wednesday and planned to cross into the United States together this weekend, in defiance of threats by US President Donald Trump to repel them.

The timing of the migrants’ arrival could compromise a flurry of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which Trump has repeatedly threatened to scrap if Mexico does not crack down on the flow of Central Americans through its territory.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said her agency was monitoring the caravan and would prosecute anyone who illegally entered the United States or made “a false immigration claim.”

Migrants began arriving by bus on Tuesday at a shelter that was a five-minute walk from the border and within sight of a US flag fluttering under an overpass linking the two countries.

Minutes after disembarking, some sat outside the shelter with bowls of food, gazing over the road towards the United States.

“The wall doesn’t look that tall,” said Kimberly George, a 15-year-old girl from Honduras, nodding toward the stunted barrier only few feet away. “I really want to cross it.”

Migrants said they fled their homes in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras because of death threats from gangs, the murder of family members or political persecution.

Moving from town to town, the migrant caravan became a stumbling block for US-Mexico relations after Trump unleashed a series of tweets in early April, pressuring Mexican authorities to stop them.

Another busload of migrants arrived in the afternoon, overflowing the first shelter and more pulled in after dark. Migrant aid groups said it was the biggest single group they had seen arrive together as they scrambled to find places in 10 shelters.

“Thanks to God we’re here,” said 34-year-old Aide Hernandez from Guatemala who had four children in tow. She said she planned to seek asylum in the United States. When asked why, she looked down, ashamed to detail a case of domestic abuse.

Volunteers from US-based advocacy group Pueblos Sin Fronteras, which organised the caravan, addressed the migrants to discuss a plan to cross the main pedestrian bridge into the United States together on Sunday.

In Washington, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray met with Homeland Security chief Nielsen to discuss Central American migration, the Mexican ministry said in a statement.

Videgaray told Nielsen that Mexico would make its own “sovereign” decisions on immigration and that its cooperation with the United States was dictated by Mexican interests.

Nielson put out her message on the caravan later, making no mention of the talks with Videgaray.

“Individuals of the ‘caravan’ seeking asylum or other similar claims should seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico,” her statement said, while also stressing that people who “coach” migrants to make false claims could be prosecuted.

“The smugglers, traffickers and criminals understand our legal loopholes better than Congress and are effectively exploiting them to their advantage,” she said.