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Tensions Rise at California-Mexico Border

First Caravan Arrivals Face Troops and Sec’y Nielsen’s Heated Rhetoric

By Laura Hauther

A small group of about 150 Caravan members has reached the US Border, where they’ve been met with razor wire and a visit from US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. (Bongino.com)

Several buses of migrants arrived in Tijuana from Mexicali starting Tuesday night, adding more people to the already crowded Benito Juarez shelter. Others are making the 90 miles trek on foot and are expected to arrive soon.

The situation prompted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to visit San Diego Tuesday to inspect the newly installed concertina wire reinforcing a border wall. She claimed there are as many as 500 criminals in this group of migrants, up from the currently cited 270 on the Homeland Security fact sheet.

At a press conference near the San Diego border wall Nielsen excoriated U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar’s ruling temporarily halting Trump’s order to deny asylum to any migrant crossing the border illegally.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is speaking on January 31st 2018 at an NFL Security Press Conference in Minneapolis. (Wikipedia)

“This is a dangerous ruling and given last year’s Supreme Court ruling on this issue, it will undoubtedly be overturned,” Nielsen said.

Those seeking asylum will likely ultimately be denied, she insisted, given that officials anticipate most caravan members will make “frivolous or unsubstantiated claims of asylum.” Nielsen noted in 2017 only 9 percent of migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America, an area that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, were ultimately granted asylum by any federal immigration judge.

She went on to claim that there are 6,200 migrants in Tijuana and another 3,000 in Mexicali heading toward the U.S. border.

“To fuel the sympathetic narrative we continue to see repeated in U.S. media, we know that organizers of the caravan have been pushing women and children and others to the front of the caravan in hopes law enforcement will not engage them,” Nielsen said.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum later released an official count of the migrants, according to which there are currently 2,965 migrants in the city–1,696 men, 637 women and 632 children.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said they are addressing fears of criminal or terrorist activity by using paid uncover informants and monitoring communications between Whatsapp text message groups, according to two anonymous DHS officials.

In a statement to NBC News, DHS Spokeswoman Katie Waldman said, “It would be malpractice for the United States to be ignorant about the migrants — including many criminals — attempting to entry our country. We have an obligation to ensure we know who is crossing our borders to protect against threats to the Homeland…”

Customs and Border Protection shut down all northbound lanes of the San Ysidro border crossing for three hours early Monday morning based on reports that a group was planning to rush the border through traffic lanes. No such incident occurred that night.

Questions have also been raised about the 5,900 active-duty troops and 2,100 members of the National Guard stationed at the border.

Many of the troops were engaged in constructing and engineering border wall reinforcements including concertina wire, shipping containers, and concrete barriers. With that task largely completed some of these soldiers are already headed home.

But many have raised concerns about the mandate of the remaining troops. The Military Times reported that a new “Cabinet order” signed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Tuesday opened the door for troops to engage in “crowd control, temporary detention and cursory search” and, if necessary, lethal force.

Such an order might run afoul of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibiting the military from performing domestic law enforcement duties.

Although Defense officials claim the order was carefully written to avoid a conflict with the Act, Kelly claims the troops need the leeway to protect border agents. There is enough evidence of potential violence and rioting to justify the additional permission to respond with force, Kelly stated.

Troops have an inherent right to self-defense, but the rules against domestic use of force have been stretched by the additional authority allowing them to assist border agents in the war on drugs. Even with those previous changes, this Cabinet order grants unprecedented use of force authority to the troops at the border.

Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan of the U.S. Northern Command told Politico Monday that the operation will be over December 15th.

The following day, incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) accused the White House of deploying the troops before the mid-term elections for political gain, stating: “The reports that President Trump is planning to withdraw some of the troops he sent to the border two weeks ago indicate just how empty, demagogic and racially motivated this political stunt was.”

Later that day Politico received an email from the Army component of the U.S. Northern Command stating, “No specific timeline for redeployment has been determined.” They went on to say the troops might be moved from Texas to California as the majority of the migrant caravan arrives in Tijuana at the San Diego border crossing.

There is no easy solution for the thousands fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries. Tijuana Mayor Gastelum is asking for help from the Mexican federal government to handle the huge sudden influx of migrants, given that U.S. border inspectors are only able to handle about 100 claims a day at the Tijuana border. Even for those who hope to get a shot at asylum, the wait could be many months.

Migrants from the caravan are adding their names to the bottom of a list of asylum seekers that already has 3,000 people registered. Some said they are willing to stay in Tijuana, a city of 1.6 million, if they can find work. Many took advantage of a job fair set up by government and business leaders on Monday, hoping to start earning money right away. Other consider it a temporary situation while they wait to see if they have a chance at asylum in the U.S.

Laura Hauther

Laura Hauther is a veteran reporter for KPFK and has written for several LA weekly newspapers.
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