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Migrant Caravan Nears U.S. Border


Back here in the United States, at a rally last night in Washington Township, Mich., President Trump brought up one of his favorite subjects - building a wall on the Mexican border and promising to get one no matter what.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And if we don't get border security, we'll have no choice. We'll close down the country because we need border security.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Trump has also sounded an alarm about the so-called migrant caravan that's gathering today in Tijuana. Around 300 people from Central America are hoping to receive asylum in the United States. This comes at the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the president's travel ban. Accompanying the migrants are activists and immigration lawyers. One of them is attorney Nicole Ramos. She's with the group Al Otro Lado, which is based in Tijuana.

NICOLE RAMOS: The caravan - it's a collection of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And they travel throughout Mexico to arrive at the border, where they are preparing to seek asylum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This year, you have many more people who've joined the caravan. What's changed?

RAMOS: This year, we have a incredibly increased number, and that's because much of the caravan is from Honduras. And that is a result of the fraudulent elections, which took place in November. Following those elections, there were widespread protests in the street. And in response to those protests, the government sent the military out. And so what we're seeing is extreme repression, violence and people fleeing those conditions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump has obviously tweeted and spoken about the migrant caravan and used it to talk about some of the changes that he wants to make to America's immigration policies. How has that impacted the caravan this year? And what would you like to see happen?

RAMOS: Well, obviously, the caravan is not accustomed to receiving the amount of media attention which it has received. As a result, caravan organizers have received death threats. The caravan members are besieged by press. It's really stressful to be traveling as a migrant with your family through Mexico, which can be very dangerous terrain, particularly when you're traveling on top of a freight train and then to have all of this attention and so much of it hostile.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are these migrants asking for? And what is the plan?

RAMOS: The plan is to proceed to the port of entry and for the asylum seekers to present themselves to U.S. authorities, at which time they will be referred for interviews with an asylum officer, which is the first step in the legal process to initiating an asylum case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This administration, though, would argue that they cannot take in everyone who is in distress and that the asylum laws in the United States have been used to accept economic migrants and not people in need.

RAMOS: Unfortunately, this administration has a very loose grasp on what the law actually says. Economic migrants - you don't qualify for asylum if you are leaving your country because you're not able to feed your family. That is not a category by which you will receive an asylum. And that's unfortunate, but that is the law. And statements to that effect are done to rile a white nationalist base that fears foreign bodies coming in and taking things which they believe are rightfully theirs.

The law allows for people who are fleeing persecution under very specific categories to seek protection in the United States. The United States is one of the most wealthy governments in the world. And I simply do not believe that there is not enough room at the table. We have had an overwhelming support come from Americans in the U.S. who are willing to sponsor these families that are coming in, who are willing to take them into their home. Those are the voices of Americans that I think we need to be paying attention to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole Ramos is an immigration attorney based in Tijuana, Mexico. Thank you very much.

RAMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.