Homeland Security chief issues warning to ‘caravan’

Homeland Security chief issues warning to ‘caravan’
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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE said Monday her agency and the Justice Department will prosecute any members of the Central American “caravan” headed to the United States who cross the border illegally.

“The Trump administration is committed to enforcing our immigration laws – whether persons are part of this ‘caravan’ or not,” said Nielsen in a statement.

“If members of the ‘caravan’ enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law,” she added.

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The caravan started in late March in Mexico’s southernmost city, Tapachula, as roughly 1,100 Central American migrants banded together for safety and to make a political statement about migration and borders. 

“Our gaze is now northward, where many of us will go to request asylum in the United States because we cannot go back to our countries and we cannot live safely in Mexico,” the caravan's organizers said in a statement.

The caravan has already made several stops in Mexico, where about half its members applied for asylum or otherwise remained in that country. Earlier this month, 600 migrants left Mexico City en route to the United States to apply for asylum.

Nielsen warned asylum seekers “may be detained while their claims are adjudicated efficiently and expeditiously, and those found not to have a claim will be promptly removed from the United States.”

She added that refugees and others seeking asylum should seek protection elsewhere.

“DHS encourages persons with asylum or other similar claims to seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico,” she said.

Earlier Monday, Trump tweeted he had instructed Nielsen not to allow caravan members into the country.

Trump also appeared to lay blame on Mexico for allowing the migrant caravan to reach its northern border, and threatened to link regional cooperation on immigration to talks to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The United States is bound by international law to hear out asylum claims made on U.S. soil, even if the claimants have entered the country illegally.

Central American migrants who intend to claim asylum regularly enter the country outside designated ports of entry — which is illegal — and turn themselves over to Border Patrol officers to officially make their claim.

A majority of the caravan's members are fleeing state-sanctioned violence in Honduras following the reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernández, according to the group's organizers.

Hernández, a U.S. ally in the region, received the Trump administration's backing even as international bodies warned of irregularities in his reelection.