The Justice Department filed criminal charges on Tuesday against 11 people who they claim are suspected members of the refugee caravan that has now reached the U.S.-Mexico border—but the group organizing the caravan says the DOJ has it wrong.
The complaints allege that the defendants illegally crossed into the U.S. by “knowingly and willingly [entering] the United States at a time and place other than as designated by Immigration Officers, and eluded examination and inspection by Immigration Officers.”
The DOJ said the 11 people facing misdemeanor charges are citizens from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
But Alex Mensing, one of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras caravan organizers, said the migrants his organization has been working with are all still with the group.
“I know that everyone who was with our group the entire time is here with us,” Mensing said.
The DOJ claims at least one of the individuals arrested is a Mexican adult, but Pueblo Sin Fronteras claims there are no Mexican adults who were part of the caravan.
“We have not had any Mexican migrants with the caravan. The only Mexican citizens traveling with us were born here of Central American parents after they fled Central America,” said Mensing, who is a paralegal at the University of San Francisco’s Immigration and Deportation Defense Law Clinic.
Mensing also said that “nobody in the caravan’s legal support or organizing teams have ever recommended someone cross illegally.” In fact, Mensing said, organizers warned the migrants of the legal consequences of crossing illegally.
According to the DOJ, the 11 defendants entered the U.S. a few miles west of the port of entry in San Ysidro, CA, near the location where more than a dozen caravan participants are camping as they wait to seek asylum.
The caravan participants have been waiting outside the port of entry since Sunday, when U.S. officials said they did not have space to process the migrants. Just eight participants have been processed since Sunday, according to BuzzFeed.
An estimated 200 members of the caravan are expected to eventually ask for asylum but it’s unclear how long that process will take at the current pace.
The U.S. government is obliged to allow foreigners to apply for asylum, according to decades-old international treaties.
“It’s completely ridiculous that the U.S. government is focusing on illegal entry when the government itself is illegally denying access to the legal port of entry,” Mensing told Splinter.
The overcrowding claim is also bizarre because, on April 23, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced she was sending additional asylum officers, immigration attorneys, DOJ immigration judges, and DOJ prosecutors to the Southern borders to ensure all “claims are adjudicated promptly.” Somehow, now that the asylum seekers have arrived, the port of entry is too crowded.
The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment. I will update this post if they do.
Update, 4 PM: A federal law enforcement official told Splinter that the 11 people who are being detained were identified as caravan participants “through routine immigration inspection and questioning.”