Originally published by USA Today
The first wave of the migrant caravan that President Donald Trump has been warning about arrived at the southern border Tuesday, setting the stage for what Trump views as a potentially dangerous confrontation but what the migrants view as their chance to apply for asylum.
Riding on nine buses, with a Honduran flag flying out the window of one of them, the group arrived in Tijuana after a month-long journey that saw them traverse multiple countries while enduring oppressive heat, torrential rains and exhausting days-long walks.
Trump obsessed over the caravan in the month leading up to the midterm elections, warning voters at rallies about an “invasion,” tweeting about it dozens of times, deploying more than 5,000 active-duty military troops and signing a presidential proclamation to suspend asylum for some caravan members – a move that’s already been challenged in federal court.
But the president has gone silent about the caravan since Election Day, issuing zero tweets about it and signing his asylum proclamation without any news photographers present, as is usually the case when he announces new policies.
Despite his recent silence, Trump’s moves have created a tense situation along the southern border, with troops lining ports of entry with miles of concertina wire, Customs and Border Protection officers closing incoming traffic lanes and migrants left wondering whether they’ll get their chance to plead their case before U.S. officials.
Here’s a look at where things stand.
Where are they?
About 350 caravan members arrived by bus in the border city of Tijuana on Tuesday, marking the first large group of migrants to reach the U.S. border after weeks of grueling walks through Central America and Mexico.
Riding on nine buses, the group rolled into Tijuana, where members are expected to unload, rest and then get in line to request asylum.
The biggest portion of the caravan, however, is still more than 1,000 miles away. After arriving in Mexico City last week, the group has begun splintering, with some members tired of the slow pace and picking up rides wherever they can.
That larger group expected to speed through two Mexican states on Tuesday but said the government of Jalisco state cut short their promised bus rides, leaving them stranded in a rural part of the state more than 50 miles from their next stop.
How has the U.S. prepared?
The U.S. presence along the southwest border was already at historic highs entering the year, with Customs officers manning 26 ports of entry and more than 16,500 Border Patrol agents watching the vast regions in between.
Trump augmented that in April, when he deployed more than 2,100 National Guardsmen to help with logistical work. The president sent even more assistance last month, taking the rare step of deploying active-duty military to prevent what he described as a looming invasion by the migrants.
There are currently 2,800 troops stationed in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona and 1,500 in California. The troops flooded the border from bases in a dozen states, according to the Department of Defense.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan has said he’s also sent hundreds of his officers and agents toward the border, pulling them from airports, seaports and land ports along the northern border with Canada.
How will migrants enter the U.S.?
In theory, the migrants can simply walk up to a port of entry and request asylum. But they’re walking into a situation where U.S. officials have been limiting how many people can apply each day, meaning they’ll have to wait a prolonged period in Mexico.
By arriving in Tijuana, the group will likely try to approach the San Ysidro Port of Entry just south of San Diego.
That’s the largest crossing along the U.S.-Mexico border, processing more than 100,000 people a day. Port officials recently completed a multi-year, $750 million upgrade, expanding the facility to 22 pedestrian lanes and 26 vehicle lanes.
But during a recent tour, Port Director Sidney Aki said the facility can process only about 100 asylum seekers per day, leaving migrants in Tijuana regularly waiting for weeks for their chance to request asylum.
When asked whether any of the additional government staffing sent to the border in recent weeks could help speed up those processing times, McAleenan said they were mostly focused on preventing illegal crossings and describing the caravan as a “law enforcement situation.”
Are they barred from asylum?
U.S. law and international conventions state that migrants are allowed to request asylum at a port of entry or if they’re caught illegally entering the country.
Under new rules published by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, combined with the proclamation signed by Trump, foreigners will still be allowed to request asylum if they present themselves at ports of entry. But the presidential directive forbids those who enter illegally from doing the same.
The last caravan that arrived at the border, in April, showed that the effect of the new policy may be minimal. According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 400 migrants presented themselves at ports of entry, while 122 got tired of waiting and entered the country illegally to request asylum.
Contributing: Rebecca Plevin, Palm Springs Desert Sun