Trump likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photo after climbing up the border fence between Mexico and United States while moving to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Idrees Ali and Lizbeth Diaz

WASHINGTON/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico if they come under threat from migrants seeking to cross into the United States, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections earlier this month, Trump denounced the approach of a caravan of migrants as an “invasion” that threatened American national security, and he sent thousands of U.S. troops to the border to help secure it.

Currently, the troops do not have authority to protect U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel. The new authority could be announced on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials briefly closed the busiest border crossing from Mexico early on Monday to add concrete barricades and razor wire amid concerns some of the thousands of Central American migrants at the border could try to rush the crossing.

Northbound lanes at the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, California, were temporarily closed “to position additional port hardening materials,” a U.S. CBP spokesperson said.

A Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity, told reporters on a conference call that U.S. officials had heard reports some migrants were intending to run through border crossings into California.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The closing was rare for the station, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world with tens of thousands of Mexicans heading every day into the United States to work or study.

“Today was a lost day of work. I already called my boss to tell her that everything was closed and I did not know what time I would be able to get in,” said Maria Gomez, a Mexican woman who crosses the border every day for work. “I cannot believe this is happening.”

Trump had remained mostly silent about the caravan since the Nov. 6 vote, but on Monday he posted a photo on Twitter showing a fence that runs from the beach in Tijuana into the ocean now covered with razor wire.

Critics charged that his talk of a migrant “invasion” was an effort to rouse his political base ahead of the elections.

Officials have stressed that the 5,900 active-duty U.S. troops on the border are not there in a law enforcement capacity and that there are no plans for them to interact with migrants.

Instead, their mission is to lend support to the CBP, and they have been stringing up concertina wire and erecting temporary housing.

The commander of the mission told Reuters last week that the number of troops may have peaked, and he would soon look at whether to begin sending forces home or shifting some to new border positions.

About 6,000 Central Americans have reached the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to local officials. More bands of migrants are making their way toward Tijuana, with around 10,000 expected.

Hundreds of local residents on Sunday massed at a monument in a wealthy neighborhood of Tijuana to protest the arrival of the migrants, with some carrying signs that said “Mexico first” and “No more migrants.”

Last month, thousands of Central American migrants began a long journey from Honduras through Mexico toward the United States to seek asylum.

Other bands of mostly Salvadorans followed, with a small group setting off on Sunday from San Salvador.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. judge blocks Trump asylum restrictions

FILE PHOTO: Members of a migrant caravan from Central America and their supporters sit on the top of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Border Field State Park before making an asylum request, in San Diego, California, U.S. April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO – A U.S. judge on Monday temporarily blocked an order by President Donald Trump that barred asylum for immigrants who enter the country illegally from Mexico, the latest courtroom defeat for Trump on immigration policy.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order against the asylum rules. Tigar’s order takes effect immediately, applies nationwide, and lasts until at least Dec. 19 when the judge scheduled a hearing to consider a more long-lasting injunction.

Representatives for the U.S. Department of Justice could not immediately be reached for comment.

Trump cited an overwhelmed immigration system for his recent proclamation that officials will only process asylum claims for migrants who present themselves at an official entry point. Civil rights groups sued, arguing that Trump’s Nov. 9 order violated administrative and immigration law.

In his ruling, Tigar said Congress clearly mandated that immigrants can apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country. The judge called the latest rules an “extreme departure” from prior practice.

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Tigar wrote.

Tigar was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama.

Previous Trump immigration policies, including measures targeting sanctuary cities, have also been blocked by the courts.

The asylum ruling came as thousands of Central Americans, including a large number of children, are traveling in caravans toward the U.S. border to escape violence and poverty at home. Some have already arrived at Tijuana, a Mexican city on the border with California.

“IT IS TOO MUCH”

Rights groups have said immigrants are being forced to wait days or weeks at the border before they can present themselves for asylum, and the administration has been sued for deliberately slowing processing times at official ports.

At a hearing earlier on Monday, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said the order clearly conflicted with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows any person present in the United States to seek asylum, regardless of how they entered the country.

Gelernt said the ACLU had recently learned Mexican authorities have begun barring unaccompanied minors from applying at U.S. ports of entry.

Mexico’s migration institute said in a statement to Reuters that there was “no basis” for the ACLU’s claims, noting that there had been no such reports from the United Nations or human rights groups that are monitoring the situation at the border.

Uriel Gonzalez, the head of a YMCA shelter for young migrants in Tijuana, said he had not heard of any new measures directed at unaccompanied minors. He noted there were already long lines to get a turn with U.S. authorities.

“This can take a while because the number of migrants has overwhelmed capacity. It is too much,” he said.

The judge on Monday wrote that Trump’s refugee rule would force people with legitimate asylum claims “to choose between violence at the border, violence at home, or giving up a pathway to refugee status.”

Caravan participants began to arrive last week in Tijuana on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, which has put a strain on shelters where many will wait to seek asylum. Their presence has also strained Tijuana’s reputation as a welcoming city, with some residents screaming at the migrants, “Get out!”

Trump sent more than 5,000 soldiers to the 2,000-mile (3,100 km) frontier with Mexico to harden the border, although critics dismissed the move as a political stunt ahead of congressional elections on Nov. 6.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Editing by Leslie Adler, Tom Brown and Andrew Heavens)

New Salvadoran migrant caravan forms; hundreds wait at U.S.-Mexico border

People in a caravan of migrants departing from El Salvador en route to the United States sit on a bus, in San Salvador, El Salvador, November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – At least 150 Salvadorans set off on Sunday from their impoverished Central American country in a U.S.-bound caravan, ignoring their likely rejection at the U.S.-Mexico border where a larger caravan of mostly Hondurans has been stalled for days.

Guarded by police officers, the men, women, and children of the gathering caravan marched through San Salvador’s streets to Guatemala-bound buses, loaded with heavy backpacks, water and the knowledge of an arduous 2,700-mile (4,300-km) trek ahead to the U.S. border.

The group from El Salvador was at least the fourth caravan to set off since a first, large-scale mobilization in neighboring Honduras, which departed on Oct. 13 from the crime-wracked northern city of San Pedro Sula.

That caravan quickly grew to thousands as it moved north on daily 30-mile (50-km) treks. Many of its members were still winding their way on Sunday through Mexico toward the U.S border, where hundreds of early arrivals have been waiting since last week to cross.

Ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm U.S. congressional elections, President Donald Trump denounced the large caravan as an “invasion” that threatened American national security and sent thousands of active-duty U.S. troops to the border with Mexico. Trump has not publicly focused on the caravan since the election.

Inspired by the public spotlight on the larger caravan, Salvadorans organized themselves on social networks and the WhatsApp application to launch the latest effort.

Among them was Manuel Umana, a 53-year-old farmer from the town of San Pedro Masahuat, who said he decided to join Sunday’s caravan to escape MS-13, a brutal criminal gang that controls large parts of El Salvador and neighboring Honduras.

“We are already threatened by the gangs where we live,” said Umana, pointing to scars on his face he said gang members had inflicted five years ago. “We no longer can live with these people.”

His motives echoed dozens of migrants in the earlier caravans who told Reuters they were abandoning their homes to escape a toxic mixture of violence, corruption and economic insecurity.

El Salvador and Honduras compete for the highest homicide rates in the world, according to official figures. Both countries rank among the poorest in the Americas.

“It is very dangerous but we have no other alternative. We are determined to do what we need to do,” said Umana, before leaving with the rest of the caravan from the Salvadoran capital’s central Plaza Salvador del Mundo.

Far to the north on Sunday, in the city of Tijuana that abuts California, hundreds of people from the larger caravan braced for planned protests from local Mexicans both in favor and against them.

Just over the northern border, nearly 6,000 U.S. troops in recent days have stretched barbed wire to dissuade illegal entries.

U.S. immigration authorities, meanwhile, barred passage to dozens of the migrants who in recent days formed orderly lines to enter through the San Ysidro Port of Entry connecting Mexico to San Diego.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Will Dunham)

‘Get out’: some Mexico border residents reject migrant arrivals

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, sit in a bus while the bus stop for them to get food and water from a store on a highway in Culiacan, Mexico November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Exhausted after a harrowing journey, members of Central American migrant caravans now face a new threat: open hostility from some Mexicans on the U.S. border.

A small group of residents of an upscale neighborhood in the Mexican border of Tijuana confronted caravan migrants late on Wednesday, throwing stones and telling them to go back to their home countries.

“Get out of here,” a group of around 20 people shouted at a camp of Hondurans near the border. “We want you to return to your country. You are not welcome.”

Migrants shouted back, in a confrontation that belied Tijuana’s reputation as a free-wheeling, tolerant city and lasted into the early hours of Thursday. Dozens of police arrived at the scene.

A caravan of thousands of mostly Honduran migrants who are fleeing violence and poverty at home set off for the United States in mid-October, with the bulk of them still to arrive at the border. Other large bands of mostly Salvadorans have followed behind.

Trump has declared the caravans an “invasion,” and has sent some 5,800 troops to “harden” the border, including with barbed wire.

With some exceptions, Mexico has welcomed the Central Americans, offering food and lodging in towns during their journey. The migrants said they were stunned by the hostile attitude in Tijuana.

“We are not criminals. Why do treat us like this if everywhere we have traveled in Mexico they treated us well?” migrants shouted back. “Think about the children who are here, please.”

Tensions began brewing several days ago when residents complained about a group of 80 or so LGBT migrants who broke away from the caravan and arrived in an upscale part of the Playas de Tijuana neighborhood, near where the stones were thrown.

A popular party town for U.S. tourists, Tijuana has a history of absorbing visitors, including Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. It has a large American population and some 3,000 Haitians settled in the city, just south of San Diego, in 2016 after failing to cross the U.S. border.

But the arrival of hundreds of members of the caravans has stretched to the limit migrant shelters that were already overflowing with people. While Tijuana’s traditional generosity was also on display, with the government setting up a new shelter and citizens offering food and clothing, a harder attitude also emerged.

Reuters gained access to a WhatsApp chat group called “Citizen Blockade” where some 250 members using strong language discussed strategies to harass the migrants or block their arrival.

Tijuana’s city government opened a shelter for 360 people of an estimated 810 that arrived this week, and officials warned there was little room to house more than 2,000 more who are expected to arrive this week.

Irineo Mujica, representative of the organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras, which is advising the migrants in the caravan, said the migrants wanted to seek asylum in the United States.

Their arrival adds to already long lines of people who have been waiting their turn at the Tijuana crossing. Last week, Trump suspended the granting of asylum to migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“We are looking for solutions, not confrontations,” Mujica said following the clash with Mexicans as a helicopter hovered above, surveying the scene from the American side.

(Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)

Exclusive: U.S. troop levels at Mexico border likely at peak – commander

FILE PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North 5th Army, visits the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico in San Diego, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Phil Stewart

BASE CAMP DONNA, Texas (Reuters) – The number of U.S. troops at the border with Mexico may have peaked at about 5,800, the U.S. commander of the mission told Reuters, noting he would start looking next week at whether to begin sending forces home or perhaps shifting some to new border positions.

The outlook by Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan, while not definitive, suggests that the high-profile military mission could soon achieve its goal of helping harden the border ahead of the expected arrival of caravans of Central American migrants in the coming weeks.

The deployment, which critics have called a pre-election political stunt by President Donald Trump, was initially expected to reach more than 7,000 forces, acting in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized the mission through Dec. 15 and while Buchanan did not rule out an extension, he did not think one appeared likely at this point, based on the current set of tasks assigned to the military.

“It is a hard date. And we have no indications that CBP is going to need us to do our work for longer than that,” Buchanan said on Wednesday at Base Camp Donna in Texas, as Mattis toured the site near the Mexico border.

He acknowledged that there could be new requests, saying: “If we get an extension, we get an extension. But I’ve got no indications of that so far.”

Asked whether he thought the troop levels had peaked, Buchanan said: “I do. We might increase by a hundred here or there, but probably not.”

Trump’s politically charged decision to send U.S. troops to the border with Mexico came ahead of U.S. congressional elections last week, as Trump sought to strengthen border security as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump’s supporters, including Republicans in Congress, have embraced the deployment.

But critics have said it was designed to drive Republican voters to the polls. They have scoffed at Trump’s comparison of caravans of Central American migrants, including women and children, fleeing poverty and violence, to an “invasion.”

Mattis defended the deployment on Wednesday, saying the mission was “absolutely legal,” justified and was improving military readiness.

‘RIGHTSIZING’

Buchanan also said his mission guidelines were clear – to support CBP personnel. He said his work was apolitical.

“I’m not being directed to do anything unnatural from above me,” said Buchanan, who is commander of U.S. Army North.

The Pentagon says there are no plans for U.S. forces to interact with migrants and instead have been carrying out support tasks for CBP, like stringing up concertina wire and building temporary housing for themselves and CBP personnel.

In recent days, up to 1,000 migrants linked to the caravans have arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, with a similar number expected to arrive in the next day or so. Thousands more could arrive in border towns over the coming days as the bulk of the caravans arrive.

Buchanan estimated that about 5,800 troops were deployed in total, with about 1,500 in California, 1,500 in Arizona and 2,800 in Texas. Buchanan acknowledged he might shift forces east or west along the border if needed.

Mattis told reporters earlier on Wednesday that U.S. soldiers were making rapid progress erecting barriers along the border and estimated the first, construction phase of the U.S. military effort could be completed within 10 days.

Buchanan suggested troops would go home once they had fulfilled requests by CBP.

“At some point in time, I’m not going to keep troops here just to keep them here. When the work is done, we’re going to start downsizing some capability,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan would need to make any recommendations on redeployment of troops to General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command. O’Shaughnessy would then report to Mattis.

He suggested a recommendation could be made in the near future.

“I’m looking as early as next week to start thinking through rightsizing if we need to change. Or do I need to shift (troops elsewhere on the border),” Buchanan said, without predicting when changes might occur.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

Mattis defends Mexico border deployment in first troop visit

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tour Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Stewart

By Phil Stewart

BASE CAMP DONNA, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the deployment of thousands of troops to the border with Mexico as he traveled there on Wednesday, saying the mission was “absolutely legal” and justified, and that it was improving military readiness.

President Donald Trump’s politically charged decision to send U.S. troops to the Mexico border came ahead of U.S. midterm congressional elections last week, as Trump sought to strengthen border security as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump’s supporters, including Republicans in Congress, have embraced the deployment.

But critics have assailed it as a political stunt to drive Republican voters to the polls. They have scoffed at Trump’s comparison of caravans of Central American migrants, including women and children, to an “invasion.”

Mattis, speaking to a small group of reporters traveling with him, rejected criticism and said the deployment was the right thing to do.

“It’s very clear that support to border police or border patrol is necessary right now,” Mattis said, noting that that was the assessment of the Department of Homeland Security.

He added the deployment was deemed legal by Trump administration attorneys and was improving readiness by giving troops more experience in rapid deployment.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alongside U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, addresses troops at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Stewart

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alongside U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, addresses troops at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Stewart

The visit took Mattis near the Texas town of Donna, where U.S. troops have set up a base camp near a border crossing point with Mexico. General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command, greeted him as he landed.

Mattis said U.S. soldiers were making rapid progress erecting barriers along the border and estimated the first, construction phase of the U.S. military effort could be completed within 10 days.

“I would anticipate with what we’ve been asked to do so far, probably within a week to 10 days, we’ll have done what’s needed,” Mattis told the reporters. “Of course, it will be a dynamic situation and there will be new requests coming in.”

Mattis said the U.S. military was also rehearsing helicopter operations to help support U.S. border personnel, potentially flying them to new locations if the caravans of migrants shift direction.

The deployed U.S. troops are not expected to directly interact with migrants, most are unarmed, and they are only assigned tasks that support U.S. border personnel, including building temporary lodging.

Standing alongside Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Mattis told troops their job was to back up Nielsen’s agency and to ignore the media.

“Now there’s all sorts of stuff in the news and that sort of thing. You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander tells you,” Mattis said.

“If you read all that stuff, you’ll go nuts … You know what your mission is here. You’ve had to deploy on short notice to a non-traditional location and do your jobs. So you focus on doing that.”

SCRUTINY FROM CONGRESS

Trump’s Democratic opponents have threatened to investigate the matter once they take control of the House of Representatives early next year after gaining a majority in the House in the midterm elections.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, told Reuters that Trump had used the military “as a prop to stoke fear and score political points.”

“We will soon be finally able to conduct oversight of this gross abuse and the President’s many failed border security policies,” said Thompson, who is expected to lead the committee when the Democrats take control of the House in January.

It is unclear how long the deployment will last. Mattis initially authorized it through mid-December but it could be extended.

Mattis estimated about 5,900 troops were participating in the border mission. The U.S. military has offered a breakdown accounting for 5,600 of them, estimating about 2,800 troops in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona and another 1,300 in California.

Asked whether troops’ families should expect their loved ones to remain deployed through Thanksgiving or even Christmas, Mattis declined to speculate.

“We are a 365-day-a-year military. Rain or Shine. Light or dark. Cold weather or hot weather,” he said, declining to estimate costs of the deployment until he had better data.

Trump railed against illegal immigration to win the 2016 presidential election and has shown no signs of easing up on the issue in the wake of last week’s vote.

Last week, he effectively suspended the granting of asylum to migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, seeking fresh ways to block thousands of Central Americans traveling in caravans from entering the United States.

Mattis compared the mission to other deployments in the past, largely comprised of U.S. National Guard, during Democratic and Republican administrations.

“We determined that the mission was absolutely legal and this was also reviewed by Department of Justice lawyers. It’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen,” Mattis said.

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Central American migrants resume their march toward U.S. border

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, make their way to Queretaro from Mexico City, Mexico, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Hannah McKay

QUERETARO, Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central American migrants resumed their march north through Mexico on Saturday, en route to the U.S. border where President Donald Trump has effectively suspended the granting of asylum to migrants who cross illegally.

Trump’s Friday order, which went into effect on Saturday, means that migrants will have to present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to qualify for asylum and follow other rules unveiled on Thursday that seek to limit asylum claims.

“It doesn’t matter what rules (Trump’s) government imposes we cannot go back to our countries. I have a bullet in my arm and another in my shoulder. If I go back home, it’d be better for me to go with a casket,” said 30-year-old Julio Caesar from Honduras, who declined to give his last name.

The caravan, made up mostly of Hondurans, started north again on Saturday morning following a rest of four days in Mexico City.

They carried backpacks, blankets, food, many with children in tow, and took the metro and then walked to the town of Tepotzotlan. There they were helped onto buses and trucks by authorities, who stopped traffic to ask motorists if they would take the migrants to the city of Queretaro, where a shelter was set up at a stadium.

Some of the migrants are set to arrive at the border city of Tijuana on Monday, while others later in the week to Reynosa and other border towns, according to migrant shelters.

“These (U.S.) policies leave migrants even more vulnerable because they will be stranded in northern Mexico, with human traffickers lurking because the Mexican government does not have the capacity to help them,” said Oscar Misael Hernandez, researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

Trump made his hard-line policies toward immigration a key issue ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. He has vowed to deploy troops at the border to stop a caravan of migrants, who say they want to seek asylum in the United States, citing violence in their own countries.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

First wave of Central American migrants arrives in Mexico City

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, queue to receive food as they stay in a sport center used as shelter in Arriaga, Mexico November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The first Central American migrants from a caravan traveling through Mexico toward the United States in hopes of seeking asylum arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, taking up temporary shelter at a sports stadium.

More than 1,000 Central Americans, many fleeing gang violence and financial hardship in their home countries, bedded down at the stadium where the city government set up medical aid and food kitchens.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections this Tuesday, President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly about the advance of the caravan and ordered thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where units strung up razor wire this weekend.

The migrants arrived in the capital, nearly 500 miles (805 kilometers) from the closest border crossings in Texas, four weeks after setting out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfill the American dream,” said Mauricio Mancilla, who traveled with his six-year old son from San Pedro Sula. “We have faith in God that we will do this, whatever the circumstances.”

Thousands more Central Americans were moving in groups in the Gulf state of Veracruz, the central state of Puebla and in the southern state of Chiapas, local media reported.

“This is an exodus,” Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and migrant rights activist, told reporters. “It’s without precedent.”

The U.S. government has pressured Mexico to halt the advance of the migrants and President Enrique Pena Nieto has offered temporary identification papers and jobs if they register for asylum in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it was processing nearly 2,800 asylum requests and that around 1,100 Central Americans had been deported.

At the capital’s famed shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Mexican volunteers called out on bullhorns, offering bus rides to migrants to the stadium.

Cesar Gomez, a 20-year old Guatemalan, said he jumped at joining the caravan to avoid the dangers of traveling alone and paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers.

“This was a good opportunity,” he said as he waited for a ride. “The first thing is to try for the United States. If not, maybe I will stay here.”

(Reporting by Josue Gonzalez, Stefanie Eschenbacher and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Exclusive: Canada rushes to deport asylum seekers who walked from U.S. – data

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) vehicle is seen near a sign at the US-Canada border in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is prioritizing the deportation of asylum seekers who walked across the border from the United States illegally, federal agency statistics show, as the Liberal government tries to tackle a politically sensitive issue ahead of an election year.

The number of people deported after their refugee applications were rejected was on track to drop 25 percent so far this year compared to 2017 to its lowest point in a decade, even as the number of deported border-crossers was on track to triple, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data.

More than 36,000 people have walked into Canada from the United States to file refugee claims since January 2017, many saying they feared U.S. President Donald Trump’s election promise and policy to crack down on illegal immigration.

The influx has thrown the Canadian asylum system into turmoil and caused a political uproar in a country accustomed to picking and choosing its newcomers.

In response, the government gave more money to the independent body adjudicating refugee claims and appointed a minister responsible for border-crossers.

The CBSA, which is responsible for deportations, said in an email to Reuters that it classifies border-crossers with criminals as a top deportation priority.

Refugee lawyers and border officers said the prioritization seems to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s way of dealing with those asylum seekers, who have become a hot political issue for his Liberal Party ahead of a general election in 2019.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair declined to comment.

In an email, Blair’s office said the government is committed to a “robust and fair” refugee system and that everyone ordered removed has been given due process.

A CBSA inland enforcement officer said the tradeoff is that deportees who could pose a real public safety risk are not getting deported.

“We have priority cases, people with extensive criminal records that are due to be deported, people with security problems – these cases are not all taken care of because we have to take care of these administrative cases,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.

Border-crossers “are not a priority, but they are a priority because of all the media attention around them.”

A CBSA spokesman said in an email that the agency prioritizes “irregular” failed refugee claimants along with criminals as a top priority, followed by other failed refugee claimants, but would not say why.

Six lawyers told Reuters they were aware of this acceleration of certain cases, some saying they have had border-crosser hearings scheduled in blocs, with a focus on those from Haiti and Nigeria.

Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman said there were good reasons for accelerating the processing and deportation of people who crossed the border: it deters people with weak claims from making refugee claims in the hopes of living in Canada for years while their case wends through the system.

“The best way of discouraging people from making frivolous claims is by having the claims processed quickly,” Waldman said.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Grant McCool)

Trump says he is ‘bringing out the military’ to protect border

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. border wall with Mexico is seen from the United States in Nogales, Arizona September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was “bringing out the military” to protect the U.S. border as a caravan of Central American migrants continued a slow trek through Mexico toward the United States but provided no details.

Despite raising Trump’s ire, thousands of Central American men, women and children seeking to escape violence, poverty and government corruption in their home countries continued their journey toward the distant U.S. border. Under a full moon early on Thursday, they walked from Mapastepec, close to the Guatemala border in southern Mexico. A town official said there had been 5,300 migrants in Mapastepec on Wednesday night.

A second group of more than a thousand people has started a similar journey from Guatemala.

“I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the migrants.

White House and Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump’s comments regarding a military deployment and a national emergency.

Trump has taken a hard line toward immigration – legal and illegal – since becoming president last year. On Monday, Trump said he had alerted the Border Patrol and the U.S. military that the migrant caravan was a national emergency.

A Pentagon spokesman said on Monday that while the National Guard troops are supporting Department of Homeland Security personnel on the border, the Defense Department had not been asked to provide additional support.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to make the caravan and immigration major issues ahead of the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections in which the party is trying to maintain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It is not new territory for Trump, who pledged during the 2016 presidential race to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico. However, funding for his signature campaign promise has been slow to materialize even though his party controls Congress and the White House.

In April, frustrated by lack of progress on the wall, Trump ordered the National Guard to help secure the border in four southwestern states. There are currently 2,100 National Guard troops along the borders of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Also in April, Trump raised the prospect of sending active-duty military forces to the border to block illegal immigration, raising questions in Congress and among legal experts about troop deployments on American soil.

A federal law dating to the 1870s restricts the use of the Army and other main branches of the military for civilian law enforcement on U.S. soil unless specifically authorized by Congress. But the military can provide support services to law enforcement and has done so on occasion since the 1980s.

Some specific statutes authorize the president to deploy troops within the United States for riot control or relief efforts after natural disasters.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Delphine Schrank in Mapastepec, Mexico; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham)