On Monday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security issued the following statement from DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen:
DHS continues to monitor the remnants of the ‘caravan’ of individuals headed to our Southern border with the apparent intention of entering the United States illegally. A sovereign nation that cannot –or worse, chooses not– to defend its borders will soon cease to be a sovereign nation. The Trump Administration is committed to enforcing our immigration laws—whether persons are part of this ‘caravan’ or not.
If members of the ‘caravan’ enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law. For those seeking asylum, all individuals may be detained while their claims are adjudicated efficiently and expeditiously, and those found not to have a claim will be promptly removed from the United States.
DHS, in partnership with DOJ, is taking a number of steps to ensure that all cases and claims are adjudicated promptly–including sending additional USCIS asylum officers, ICE attorneys, DOJ Immigration Judges, and DOJ prosecutors to the Southern border.
Again, if you enter the United States illegally, let me be clear: you have broken the law. And we will enforce the law through prosecution of illegal border crossers.
DHS encourages persons with asylum or other similar claims to seek protections in the first safe country they enter, including Mexico. While we are committed to doing everything we can on the border to secure our nation, we need Congress to do their job as well. I join the President in asking Congressional leadership to work with the Administration to pass legislation to close the legal loopholes that prevent us from securing our borders and protecting Americans. I stand ready to work with any member who in good faith seeks to support DHS’s mission and secure our country.
Not surprisingly, rights groups have already slammed the DHS statement.
“DHS’ statement today shows us the real human cost of what happens when the politics of hate take office,” Jess Morales Rocketto, Political Director for the National Domestic Worker Alliance, said. “Women are turned away from shelter. Children are greeted with threats of prison. And our nation’s laws are disregarded in pursuit of political positions. Thankfully, there are more people who believe that we ought to help each other than jail each other in this country. The refugee caravan is not a test of our national security. It’s a test of the character of our nation and Trump and his lackeys are repeatedly failing.”
“When white supremacists run the government, it’s each of our responsibilities to show that they don’t speak for us,” Heather Cronk, Co-director of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), added. “This government is creating refugees from Central America and then trying to shut down the legal asylum process they seek as a result of being displaced. As Trump tries to close doors, we’re determined to keeping them open to show there are still people who help each other in times of need. The refugee caravan should be no exception.”
Both of these groups have been organizing in the U.S. to help asylum seekers. We Belong Together had published a pledge, while SURJ’s pledge says the following: ” Trump closes doors, but we open them.”
The DHS statement and groups’ responses come days before the 2018 Refugee Caravan is expected to complete the journey north, where many of its participants will present themselves to qualify for the legal asylum process.