We examined three claims made about the migrant caravan. Here’s what we found.
William Flannigan and Annalee Monroe, Arizona Republic
The migrant caravan has traveled more than 2,500 miles to the U.S. border after originating in Central America. In the last weeks of November, the first major group arrived at the border near San Diego, where they face a long wait to apply for asylum.
The migrant caravan consists mainly of people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, also known as the “Northern Triangle.”
The countries are some of the most violent in the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign policy think tank. The research organization cited government corruption, ineffective police forces, a rampant drug trade, fragile public institutions and the proliferation of gangs as factors to the violence. Instability in the region has led tens of thousands to seek asylum in the United States.
AZ Fact Check is looking at three significant claims made so far about the caravan.
1. Public safety
Are there many people with criminal records in the caravan?
WHO SAID IT: President Donald Trump.
THE FORUM: Twitter post on Nov. 21.
THE COMMENT: “There are a lot of CRIMINALS in the Caravan. We will stop them.”
OUR FINDING: No stars, UNSUPPORTED
President Trump said in a tweet on Nov. 21 that many of the people who travel with the caravan are criminals. He was reiterating a claim he made in October, when he said criminals and unknown people from the Middle East were traveling with the groups.
While in San Diego touring the border on Nov. 20, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirjsten Nielsen said officials suspected that 500 people with criminal records were traveling with the caravan. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan also repeated this number to reporters on Nov. 26.
McAleenan said, “We have information of participation of over 500 individuals with criminals records as part of the caravan. That is gathered through direct engagement, as well as information sharing with our government of Mexico partners.”
There have been recent arrests made near the border involving people with criminal records.
A news release by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on Nov. 30 said agents from the Ajo station in southern Arizona apprehended an undocumented person after he entered the United States.
Agents said the man traveled from Honduras and had MS-13 gang tattoos, as well as a felony conviction for weapons misconduct in Maricopa County. According to the Border Patrol, the man said that for his own safety he traveled with the migrant caravan through dangerous parts of Mexico.
A separate news release by Border Patrol the same day also said agents had arrested a man attempting to cross the border illegally on Nov. 24 near the San Ysidro port of entry, between Tijuana and San Diego.
He had a murder conviction in Honduras and was released four months ago, according to the agency. The man said he traveled with the migrant caravan from Honduras to the U.S. border.
Apart from these two news releases, neither Border Patrol nor the administration has given further information about the 500 persons claimed to have criminal records within the caravan. Officials have not released information about who are considered criminals, what types of crimes were committed and whether the crimes happened in the United States or other countries.
A handful of arrests by Border Patrol does not fully support the claim that a few hundred, or “a lot,” of people with criminal records traveled with the caravan.
Federal immigration authorities have been releasing large groups of migrant families from Central America at local churches in Phoenix.
Nick Oza, The Republic | azcentral.com
2. How many people?
Are there are 5,000 migrants in Tijuana, next to the U.S.- Mexico border?
WHO SAID IT: PBS NewsHour online.
THE COMMENT: “Since the first members of the caravan arrived a couple weeks ago, the group amassed in the border city has grown to about 5,000 people.”
FORUM: Article published Nov. 26.
OUR FINDINGS: Four stars, TRUE
Multiple news reports in the past few weeks, including PBS News Hour online, said that about 5,000 migrants have arrived near San Ysidro port of entry on the border between San Diego and Tijuana. The migrants are waiting to declare asylum with U.S. Border Patrol.
The mayor of Tijuana, Juan Manuel Gastelum, confirmed in a press conference on Nov. 23 that around 5,000 migrants had arrived in the city. He said he expected the number to swell and due to the lack of public resources and he declared a humanitarian crisis.
Gastelum said the city cannot support the thousands of migrants on its own and has requested humanitarian aid from the Mexican government and the United Nations.
Most migrants are camped out at a sports complex in the city, according to the Associated Press. The conditions are overcrowded and city officials fear that they will worsen as more people arrive.
Federal government estimates show that up to 10,000 migrants could travel to the city. A bottleneck could form in Tijuana as Border Patrol must sort through each asylum case. U.S. officials process about 100 claims a day, according to the Associated Press.
The number of migrants is highly variable. Following the PBS Newshour report, the number peaked at about 6,500 migrants but has since dwindled to around 3,000.
In an interview with Radio Formula on Dec. 5, David Leon, the national director for Mexico’s civil protection agency, said that 2,500 people were in the new shelter on Tijuana’s east side and around 500 people had stayed in the area surrounding the now-closed sports complex.
Leon said further that 1,000 people had turned back to their home countries and another 1,000 people tried to cross the U.S. border illegally and were apprehended.
Over the next months, the number of migrants in the city is expected to diminish.
3. How they present to officials
Do migrants have to enter legally at a port of entry if they want to request asylum?
WHO SAID IT: President Donald Trump.
FORUM: Twitter post on Nov. 24.
THE COMMENT: “Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our Country legally.”
OUR FINDINGS: No stars, FALSE
On Nov. 9, Trump issued a presidential proclamation that declared any person who enters the U.S. illegally will not be allowed to apply for asylum. He sought to overturn current asylum laws, which do not require foreigners to go through a legal port of entry.
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act states that any foreigner who arrives in the United States, “whether or not at a designated port of entry,” can apply for asylum. The act further says the person cannot be deported immediately given they are physically on American soil.
The bill was introduced in Congress in January 1965. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill into law on Oct. 3 of that year in a symbolic event at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.
Advocacy groups brought a lawsuit against Trump’s proclamation almost immediately. On Nov. 20, Judge Jon Tigar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled against Trump’s proclamation in the case, stating that the president cannot unilaterally change asylum laws. The ruling led to criticism from Trump, who called Tigar an “Obama judge.”
Trump continued to assert the intended effect of the proclamation in Nov. 24 post on Twitter. “Migrants will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our country legally…” he wrote.
But Tigar issued a 30-day restraining order as part of his ruling, which requires the administration to follow existing asylum laws. The administration cannot legally require migrants to stay in Mexico, although Trump has said Mexico and the U.S. are working on a deal.
On Nov. 27, the Justice Department filed an appeal in the case to Tigar. The appeal claimed the court’s restraining order undermined the president’s decision, which was “necessary to address the ongoing and increasing crisis” in the immigration system. Tigar refused the appeal on Nov. 30.
Migrants who are apprehended or line up at the ports of entry often claim “credible fear” asylum. The 1980 Refugee Act allows for people to claim credible fear of returning to their home because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political party.
Arizona Republic reporters explain the difference between seeking asylum at the border and attempting to immigrate illegally.
Carly Henry, The Republic | azcentral.com
Department of Homeland Security data shows 91,786 people claimed credible fear cases in fiscal year 2016. Only 20 percent of those applicants ultimately were granted asylum, which is about 18,350 total asylum claims.
It is unclear how many of the 5,000 migrants at the San Ysidro entry point will be granted asylum even if they file a credible fear claim. The wait likely will take months as they are processed.
Some may find the wait too long and will take other measures to get on U.S. soil. The clash between U.S. Border Patrol and migrants on Nov. 25 occurred after a number of migrants rushed toward the border. Border patrol agents used tear gas after people threw stones and tried to get in through gaps in the fence.
The tension at the border likely will continue as Tigar’s restraining order prevents the administration taking action on the asylum laws for 30 days. The next hearing is set for Dec. 19.
While a future ruling could change the AZ Fact Check finding, courts have found current immigration law does not require migrants to legally enter through a port of entry to claim asylum.
SOURCES: Twitter post by President Donald Trump, Nov. 21; Twitter post by President Donald Trump, Nov. 24; “What’s happening with asylum seekers at the border”, PBS NewsHour online, Nov. 26; Customs and Border Protection Nov. 30 media release “Border Patrol Agents Arrest Caravan Member with MS-13 Ties”; Customs and Border Protection Nov. 30 media release “Agents Arrest Murderer Crossing Illegally with Others from Caravan”; “Trump claims there are stone cold criminals: Here’s what we know” Nov. 26, USA Today; “Mexico accepts housing migrants, seeks US development aid”, Nov. 27, Associated Press; “Tijuana, Mexico declares migrant ‘humanitarian crisis’, Nov. 24, NBC News; Judge blocks Trump’s asylum rules,” Nov. 20, USA Today; “Fifty Years On, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape the United States,” Migration Policy Institution; “Has there been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims over the last 10 years?” June 21, Politifact; “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle” backgrounder, The Council on Foreign Relations; “The Migrant Caravan: what is it and why does it matter?” BBC News, Nov. 26.
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