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DHS to 'closely monitor' caravan of migrants headed for US border

DHS to 'closely monitor' caravan of migrants headed for US border
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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenBill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS heads to Trump's desk Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Hillicon Valley: Trump eyes staff shake-up | Amazon taps NYC, Northern Virginia for new offices | What it will mean for DC | Tech firms buck Trump on cyber pact | Defense official warns against hacking back MORE said Sunday that the agency is focused on rooting out potential criminal gang members who may seek to exploit a so-called "caravan" of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.

"While we closely monitor the caravan crisis, we must remain mindful of the transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that prey on the vulnerabilities of those undertaking the irregular migration journey," Nielsen said in a statement.

"We shall work with our partners in the region to investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all who seek to encourage and profit from irregular migration," she continued. "We fully support the efforts of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, as they seek to address this critical situation and ensure a safer and more secure region.” ­

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Thousands of Central Americans have made their way from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala toward Mexico and the U.S. in recent weeks as they flee violence and poverty in their home countries. Those migrants typically travel in large groups for safety.

Smaller groups crossing into Mexico were granted visitor permits or asylum this weekend, while roughly 2,000 other migrants swam or were ferried across a river at the Guatemala-Mexico border, or made their way across a bridge before reconnecting with the larger group, The Associated Press reported.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE, who has made a push for stricter immigration laws a hallmark of his campaign rallies and his Twitter page, has seized on the group of migrants in recent days and warned of the threat the caravan poses to the U.S. border.

He has wielded the caravan as a political bargaining tool, threatening to close down the U.S.-Mexico border if the group is not stopped, or to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if those countries do not prevent their citizens from fleeing for the U.S.

The president highlighted a similar group of migrants traveling to the U.S. in April, using that group to rally support for his border wall and blame Democrats for congressional inaction on immigration laws, despite Republicans holding majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Immigration policy has been a point of contention within the administration, and was reportedly the subject behind an explosive argument between chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and national security adviser John Bolton last week.