The Trump administration on Monday announced it was sending more federal immigration attorneys, judges, prosecutors and asylum officers to the border to prepare for a possible influx of Central Americans arriving as part of an annual caravan – with the aim of swiftly prosecuting the migrants and, in many cases, returning them to their home countries.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that members of the caravan who enter the country illegally will be referred for prosecution and others seeking asylum will be adjudicated quickly and deported if their claims are without merit.
“If you enter the United States illegally, let me be clear: you have broken the law. And we will enforce the law through prosecution of illegal border crossers,” Nielsen said in a statement. “DHS encourages persons with asylum or other similar claims to seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico.”
The caravan of Central Americans is an annual event but this year’s, which began late last month, drew the attention of President Donald Trump and resulted in his call to send the National Guard to the border. He later said the decision was also spurred by last month’s spike in apprehensions on the southern border.
The caravan grew at times to more than 1,500 people but largely disbanded in Mexico. A few dozen, however, carried on until they reached the United States, including about 50 who crossed into the country from Tijuana late last week, Reuters reported.
It’s unclear how many migrants from the caravan remain and whether they are still on their way to the U.S., but Nielsen said the government was deploying more resources to deal with a possible influx.
“DHS, in partnership with [the Department of Justice], is taking a number of steps to ensure that all cases and claims are adjudicated promptly," she said. Those steps, she said, include sending additional attorneys from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, additional asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and additional immigration judges and prosecutors from the Department of Justice to the border.
Benjamin Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that the extra resources “might be good optics” but that whether good policy would result from it would be determined by what the extra staff is expected to do.
“If their mandate is to move quickly, then you have undermined the commitment to ensuring somebody is looking at the facts of the case and deciding whether in fact those people are entitled to protections under our law,” he said, referring to Central Americans who are seeking asylum due to violence in their home countries.
On Monday morning, the president reiterated his call for his promised border wall and said ongoing negotiations over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement could be affected by how Mexico enforces its own immigration laws.
“Mexico, whose laws on immigration are very tough, must stop people from going through Mexico and into the U.S.,” he tweeted. “We may make this a condition of the new NAFTA Agreement. Our Country cannot accept what is happening! Also, we must get Wall funding fast.”