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Declining Mexico’s offer to stay, migrants head to U.S.

Thousands of migrants from Central America are expected to reach the U.S. - Mexico border in coming weeks, after declining an offer by Mexico to stay. The Trump administration, which has already stationed thousands of troops and guardsmen there, aims to stop them from crossing. USA Today’s Alan Gomez joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In southern Mexico, police temporarily blocked a highway in an attempt to stop a group of several thousand Central American migrants on route to the U.S.. Many of the migrants declined an offer from the Mexican government to apply for refugee status, and continue to walk as part of the caravan. Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a plan to offer shelter and medical attention and temporary work benefits to migrants if they apply for refugee status. More than 1,700 have already applied. Alan Gomez covers immigration and Latin America for USA Today. He joins me now from San Diego.

    Well what's the latest on the migrant caravan?

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    Well, they are still and very south of Mexico, slowly making their way up. The estimate of the numbers is starting to vary quite a bit, anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000. So basically, the U.S. is preparing all sorts of measures to prepare for them, and meanwhile, the Mexican government is trying to do its part to keep as many of them there as possible.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And now, they are still about a thousand miles away or maybe even more. It's going to take them weeks if not longer to get here. But what what is that reception like? What is the Border Patrol planning to do?

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    Well, we we just took a tour of the border yesterday with the head of Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan and they laid out a very robust plan that's heavy on the enforcement side on the stopping them from crossing over the border. The president has already announced they're going to send an additional thousand U.S. troops to the border to help that. There's already 2,100 National Guardsmen patrolling the border to help out with border patrol to make sure that they don't see a rush of these migrants trying to cross into the country illegally. The difficult part is that there's just not much they can do right now to speed up the process by which these migrants would be able to present themselves at the ports of entry and legally request asylum.

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    Right now, we're in San Ysidro port just south of San Diego and they can process up to 100 a day. That's it. And everyone else is just going to have to wait on the other side as they go through that process. So they're setting up on our side to make sure that there's no illegal rush. They're trying to streamline that asylum process as much as they can but really they're working a lot with the Mexican government and with NGOs on the other side to give them shelter, to give them food, to give them safety as they wait to present themselves at the ports and apply for asylum.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of the ideas the president has proposed is to stop the asylum process altogether from the southern border. Is that possible?

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    We're not quite sure if, as we've learned with this president, they're willing to push the legal limits of what they can do in order to limit both legal and illegal immigration. The most high profile example of course, is the travel ban that was implemented shortly after the president took office in 2017. That was struck down twice by the courts but ultimately, the third version was upheld by the Supreme Court. So they're looking at that ruling and they're looking at the legal reasoning that they used in that final successful travel ban as something that they can use to try to either limit or completely halt asylum cases along the southern border in the name of national security.

    If you remember, the president has talked about criminals, gang members and "Middle Easterners" mixed into this group. So it looks like they might try to use some sort of national security nexus as a reason to stop Asylum's at the border. We're expecting the administration to announce something around Tuesday what their plans are but as Secretary of Homeland Security Kierstead Nielson said during her own tour of the border yesterday, everything is on the table.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And this was not, this is not the first time a caravan has tried to do this. What can we learn from the previous pattern of the number of people who quit along the way or turn around or stop in Mexico?

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    A previous caravan just earlier this year that arrived at the U.S. border in April gives us a better picture of what's really going on. In that case that group started off at about 1,500. About 500 of them made it to the border. 122 of those were apprehended trying to enter into the country illegally but most of them, 401, legally presented themselves at the ports of entry, as our government has been urging them to do, 374 of those are — about 93 percent — past their initial credible fear screening, which means that they're now in the country, they're going through the asylum process and are applying to try to stay here legally. So I think that gives you a better picture of what we could expect when this current caravan ends up making it to the border.

    All right. Alan Gomez of USA Today joining us from California tonight. Thanks so much.

  • ALAN GOMEZ:

    Thank you.

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