In Tijuana, Hundreds Of Asylum Seekers Await Entry Into The U.S.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Trump administration says there is an immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. So the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is ordering 35 prosecutors and 18 immigration judges down to the area to help manage it. Sessions also says the move is meant to send a message to the world - don't come to the U.S. illegally.
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JEFF SESSIONS: We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border.
MARTIN: At the border in Tijuana, Mexico, NPR's Kirk Siegler reports dozens of asylum-seekers from that caravan are still waiting to be processed.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: That caravan of Central American asylum-seekers Attorney General Sessions was referring to arrived at the border crossing in Tijuana last week. And by now, dozens have passed into the U.S. and are being processed by immigration officials. But there is still a sizable group here under tarps and rough shelters not unlike a refugee camp.
And there are now people from both sides of the border pouring in to donate food, clothing and other supplies. I'm looking at a group of volunteers over here that are giving out badly needed jackets and blankets, and there are some women to my right here that are distributing diapers.
In this camp, there's not really much time to pause and consider the latest edict from the Trump administration. But volunteers like Ashley Hatfield tell me they're saddened by the tone from north of the border.
ASHLEY HATFIELD: They don't understand that - where these people come from.
SIEGLER: Hatfield, who lives in Tijuana, is helping sort through bags of donated clothes.
HATFIELD: They don't want them in their country, but they don't realize what refugees and immigrants have the capability to bring and contribute.
SIEGLER: People here say the real crisis along the southwest border is the fact that refugees are fleeing violence in countries like El Salvador and Honduras. An increase in asylum-seekers since last year has added to an already huge backlog in immigration cases in the U.S. Currently, about 350 judges preside over close to 700,000 pending cases. At the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, Director Ev Meade says the administration's actions won't address that backlog.
EVERARD MEADE: What they're trying to do here is remove people more quickly, more expeditiously. In other words, the focus here isn't on adjudicating these claims fairly. It's on preventing people from entering the United States.
SIEGLER: But Victor Manjarrez, a retired Border Patrol chief at the University of Texas El Paso, says the administration's plan might work, and it could very well deter people from crossing illegally.
VICTOR MANJARREZ: It's currently a horrible system all the way around. Not only the people that operate that system but the people that are going through that system - they're just not very swift.
SIEGLER: In Tijuana, Isabel Rodriguez feels like she has no other choice but to try and join that system and its backlog, even though she could be detained or wait months, if not years, for a court date. It's too dangerous to go home to El Salvador, she says.
ISABEL RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SIEGLER: "The lawyers working with the caravan have told me I have a good shot at getting asylum, so I'll sit here and wait," she says, "as long as it takes." Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.