About 150 migrants spent the night outside El Chaparral gate in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: A. Martinez / VOA)
About 150 migrants spent the night outside El Chaparral gate in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: A. Martinez / VOA)

A group of about 150 Central American migrants remain in limbo at a U.S. border crossing after U.S. border inspectors said the port of entry did not have enough space to accommodate them.

The migrants, who traveled in a caravan to try to seek asylum in the United States, camped out Monday near the border crossing facility in Tijuana, Mexico, with some inside a port of entry between the two countries. On Sunday, the migrants were stopped from entering the San Ysidro facility because officials said it was at capacity.

It is not clear how long the migrants might need to wait to be seen by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials.

When asked about the caravan Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, "We have to have borders. If we don't have borders, we won't have a country."

During a joint news conference Monday with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Trump called the U.S. immigration laws "a total disaster" and said "they're laughed at for their stupidity." He declined to say how many of the migrants should be admitted to the United States.

Organizers of the caravan say they want the most vulnerable cases to cross the border first, including children under threat.

Around 50 asylum seekers entered the El Chaparral
Asylum-seekers entered the El Chaparral port of entry, waiting to be attended. (VOA/ A. Martinez)

Many of the migrants are women and children, and they are part of a group of several hundred people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who spent a month traveling in a caravan through Mexico.

The migrants walked Sunday to the El Chaparral pedestrian crossing wearing white arm bands to distinguish themselves from others at the busy border site.

Nicole Ramos, a lawyer working with the migrants, said they plan to tell border officials they are afraid to return to their home countries.

Trump and members of his administration have been tracking the caravan of migrants, calling it a threat to the United States since it started March 25 in the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border.

U.S. asylum

Trump sent hundreds of National Guard troops to the border after railing against the migrants and pressuring Mexico to stop the caravan, going as far as to threaten the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico rejected the pressure from Trump. Instead, it gave the migrants a one-month transit pass to decide if they want to seek refuge in Mexico, go back home or keep moving toward the United States.

The weeks-long journey by the so-called caravan is an annual, organized trip aimed at drawing attention to the plight of destitute Central Americans. The tradition dates back to 2010.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speak
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks before a House Homeland Security Committee subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 26, 2018.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said asylum claims will be resolved "efficiently and expeditiously.'' But she warned that any asylum-seekers making false claims could be prosecuted, as could anyone who assists the migrants in doing so.

Asylum-seekers must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution at home. The vast majority of those who apply for asylum in the United States are denied. Those who pass an initial "credible fear" screening are assigned a date in immigration court that is often months away.

Trump administration officials say many of those migrants skip their court dates and try to live illegally in the United States. Trump has urged Congress to change what he calls "catch and release laws" to prevent migrants from entering the country before their asylum cases have been heard.

"We need a change in the law. Catch and release is ridiculous. If they touch our property, if they touch our country, essentially you catch them and you release them into our country. That's not acceptable to anybody," Trump said Monday.