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Migrants Denied Entry To U.S. At Crowded San Diego Border Crossing


Let's review the progress of a group of migrants from Central America. About 1,000 of them fled northward weeks ago, saying they were leaving violent countries. When they labeled themselves a caravan, they captured media attention and also criticism from President Trump. Most stopped well short of the United States, but yesterday, almost 200 arrived at the border near San Diego. Immigration officials said their facilities are full. The migrants have to wait to apply for asylum, so they had time to talk with NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Twenty-three year-old Iris Marlenes says she and her 6-year-old daughter had no choice but to flee their home in La Paz, El Salvador.

IRIS MARLENES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Because they threatened me and also my sister," she says, "and my cousin, mother and stepfather," she adds. The they she refers to are El Salvador's vicious street gangs. Marlenes says gang members said they would kill her if she didn't do as ordered.

MARLENES: (Through interpreter) Look, they would get ready to assassinate someone, and they told me that I would have to go in an hour before the hit to check out the place, make sure there wasn't any police around.

KAHN: Marlenes refused. She left her town on the Pacific Coast nearly two months ago. Once inside Mexico, she joined up with the caravan, which at its height reached more than a thousand people. Many chose to stay in Mexico or cross into the U.S. illegally at a later time. President Trump has closely followed the migrants' progress, taking to Twitter to denounce the caravan. Administration officials have warned the migrants they will be prosecuted if they enter the U.S. illegally or lie while requesting asylum, and they'll prosecute anyone who assists or coaches individuals to make a false immigration claim. Immigration lawyer Helen Sklar took offense to that threat. She came to Tijuana to counsel the migrants on U.S. law.

HELEN SKLAR: Providing a client with information as to the legal requirements for a process they're about to enter is perfectly legitimate advice and counsel on the part of a lawyer.

KAHN: She said she's been practicing immigration law for more than 30 years and says at least one woman she spoke to had a very credible claim. Advocates say the Trump administration paints all migrants as criminals and refuses to look for solutions in their home countries. Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America says since taking office, Trump has every year proposed slashing aid to Latin America.

MAUREEN MEYER: The administration never speaks about the need to increase assistance to the countries of origin, to work with these countries to address the push factors driving migration and driving this refugee crisis.

KAHN: Illegal immigration to the U.S. through the Southern border plunged dramatically after President Trump's inauguration. It has steadily increased in recent months, advocates say, due to the political instability in Honduras and the gang violence there and in El Salvador. As the 200 migrants lined up to enter the border office in San Diego, Calif., U.S. authorities announced no asylum-seekers would be allowed in. They were already full up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Si, se puede.

KAHN: Undeterred, the large group in two parallel lines marched to the border crossing, chanting, yes, we can, yes, we can. Migrant advocate and attorney Nicole Ramos told the migrants and supporters it's unacceptable that U.S. officials refuse the group.

NICOLE RAMOS: We can build a base in Iraq under a week. We can't process 200 refugees? I don't believe it.


KAHN: Salvadoran asylum-seeker Iris Marlenes says she'll try again. She can't go back to El Salvador. She says truth is on her side.

MARLENES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "A lie always comes to light sooner or later. Hopefully the U.S. will believe me," she says, "and let me in." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana, Mexico.


Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on