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Hundreds Of Asylum Seekers Still Waiting At U.S. Border In Tijuana


The Department of Justice announced today that 11 migrants suspected of being part of a caravan of Central Americans have been charged with entering the country illegally. At the port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, U.S. Customs officials have also begun admitting some migrants who are seeking political asylum. The Trump administration has tightened the screening process for asylum-seekers. So as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, it's not clear how long hundreds more on the Mexican side of the border will wait.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: While there's been a lot of attention from President Trump tweeting about this latest caravan, the fact is there were already many more migrants camped out here at the border for days, some even weeks, seeking asylum. All this well before the Central American caravan and all the media arrived.

The caravan migrants are camping on this worn plaza underneath donated tents. But farther down the street, we meet Angelica Hernandez. She huddles beneath a blanket with her 12-year-old son and says she's trying to escape violence in her home of Michoacan, Mexico.

ANGELICA HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

SIEGLER: "They're dropping off all this aid for the people in the caravan," she says. "I wish they'd notice us." Volunteers can be seen crossing over from the U.S. side carrying donations of food, water and blankets. Hernandez got here last Friday to see if she could get asylum. There have been spikes in asylum-seekers at this crossing in the past year, but not until now has it gotten so much international attention.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).

SIEGLER: It's tense, and there's confusion over whether some of the migrants from the caravan are jumping ahead in line. Juan Pablo Segura, a volunteer aid worker, says before the caravan came, the police usually cleared everyone from this street, and some went to shelters.

JUAN PABLO SEGURA: So now that the caravan's come in - since it's such an international big deal and there's so many cameras, they're not forcing the people and removing them because a lot of people are watching.

SIEGLER: This makeshift encampment is growing, and the stories of so many of these migrants fleeing gang violence are harrowing. Deana Quezada, who's not part of the caravan, has been here for close to a week after making a month-long journey from Honduras.

DEANA QUEZADA: (Speaking Spanish).

SIEGLER: She's pulling back her daughter's hair to show us a scar. She says her daughter was beaten in a revenge attack after her husband got involved with some bad men. So she took their kids and fled.

QUEZADA: (Speaking Spanish).

SIEGLER: "I've heard that if you ask the U.S. for help, they'll give it to you," she says. For now, as she waits, she's just grateful for some donated shoes for her kids. And she's looking for a tarp to cover her family. It's been cold and rainy sleeping out here at night. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Tijuana.

(SOUNDBITE OF REFUGE SONG, "REFUGIO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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