“If we find that it’s uncontrollable,” Trump said, “we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control. The whole border.”
Thousands of Central Americans, fleeing violence, extreme poverty and political persecution, have made their way to the border over the past month as part of a caravan dubbed the Central American exodus. Thousands more are following behind.
Caravans from the region are not rare, but this one is unusual for its size. Migrants and refugees often prefer to travel in groups to avoid the dangerous journey through Mexico to the border.
According to Mexico’s Baja California state governor, more than 5,600 migrants and refugees have arrived in the Tijuana area in recent days and the stadium sheltering individuals is now over capacity.
Central Americans who are part of the collective exodus have shared harrowing stories of being forced to leave their homes due to threats or violence. Others, including those with or caring for individuals with disabilities or health conditions, are hoping to find work in the United States to be able to afford medical treatment.
Since the initial collective exodus set off from Honduras in October, Trump has sought to sow fear in the US, often falsely labelling the group as an “invasion” and saying, without giving evidence, the caravan is full of “criminals”.
The president also deployed thousands of troops to the border, and this week gave the US defence chief expanded powers to use the military to protect US Border Patrol agents. On Thursday, Trump confirmed that he gave troops the “ok” to use lethal force against migrants and refugees “if they have to”, even though there have been no signs of violence towards US authorities.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is set to hold a “large-scale operational readiness exercise” at the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana on Thursday.
The administration also implemented new asylum rules on the border, which were temporarily blocked by a US judge.
Under the new rules, individuals crossing the border between official ports of entry would not be eligible for asylum. Rights groups call the rules a violation of US and international laws.
On Monday, US District Judge John Tigar issued a temporary nationwide restraining order prohibiting the enforcement of the policy, saying “Whatever the scope of the president’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.”
Many of those who have arrived in Tijuana say they want to apply for asylum at an official port of entry.
Frustrated with an expected months-long waiting period before they are permitted to request asylum in the US, a group of some 100 migrants and refugees walked together to the San Ysidro port of entry Thursday to request a solution.
Additional reporting from Sandra Cuffe in Tijuana, Mexico.