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Group Of Central Americans Seeking Asylum Reach U.S.-Mexico Border

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than 300 Central Americans have arrived in Tijuana at the U.S.-Mexico border. They are what's left of the caravan that traveled through Mexico and drew the ire of President Trump. On Sunday, many of them plan to turn themselves in to American border officials and ask for asylum. KPBS Fronteras reporter Jean Guerrero has more.

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN GUERRERO, BYLINE: Buses of Central Americans have been trickling into Tijuana all week, mostly families with children. They're staying at migrant shelters like Juventud 2000, where the floor is crowded with tents. Coordinators take down names, ages and home countries, registering the newcomers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Rodriguez.

GUERRERO: Reina Isabel Rodriguez came with her 7-year-old grandson, whom she says she adopted after a gang in El Salvador kidnapped his mother.

REINA ISABEL RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) If we arrived here, it's because God permitted it. He gave me courage, strength to disappear from my country.

GUERRERO: At the U.S. port of entry, some migrants are already presenting themselves. An unofficial ticketing system is in place, coordinated by U.S. and Mexican immigration officials to allow asylum-seekers to file through slowly. Jeimy Pastora from Honduras sat on the ground, waiting her turn, cradling her 2-year-old daughter. She says she's scared she's going to be turned away.

JEIMY PASTORA: (Through interpreter) I've heard they don't give asylum anymore, that the U.S. isn't helping anyone, that it's a lie, that they're going to deport me.

GUERRERO: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says caravan members have the, quote, "apparent intention to enter illegally." She's directed U.S. attorneys to send prosecutors and judges to the border to adjudicate these cases quickly. But immigration lawyers working with the migrants say federal law is on their side. Nicole Ramos is among those training caravan members on their rights before they cross.

NICOLE RAMOS: We've been very clear that those who are coming to the border are coming to a port of entry to seek asylum at a port of entry as they are permitted to do under existing U.S. federal law and international law.

GUERRERO: Back at the migrant center, Mario Llerena says he's not trying to sneak across. He's 26 but declined to say what part of Central America he's from for fear of the gangs there.

MARIO LLERENA: (Through interpreter) A thief doesn't announce he's coming. We've announced we're coming. Trump knows. Or has he not been notified?

GUERRERO: These caravans are an annual event organized by human rights groups to raise awareness about violence in Central America. But this year, the caravan has more than raised awareness. It's become a target for those like President Trump who claim a flawed immigration system has drawn floods of migrants like these to the country's borders. For NPR News, I'm Jean Guerrero in Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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