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Migrant caravan in limbo as US says border crossing is full

About 50 people from a Central American migrant caravan including women, children and transgender individuals tried to seek US asylum on Sunday but were not allowed to cross the Mexico border because officials said the facility was full.

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Wearing white arm-bands to distinguish themselves from others crossing at the San Ysidro checkpoint near San Diego, some of the asylum seekers waved good-bye to family members who made a difficult decision to stay behind in Mexico.

About 20 people in the group were able to reach the final fence at the busy crossing, where they were watched by armed US border guards who did not immediately open the gate.

"We have reached capacity at the San Ysidro port of entry," said Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in a statement on Sunday, adding that the immigrants "may need to wait in Mexico."

By sunset the tired migrants had decided to hunker down there, apparently with no bedding beyond the scant possessions they had with them.

"We've been waiting so long that it doesn't really matter whether it's today, tomorrow or when they let us in," said Irineo Mujica, director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an advocacy group that organized the caravan since its starting point in southern Mexico a month ago.

At one point in early April the caravan gathered 1,500 immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It has drawn the wrath of President Donald Trump, who ordered immigration officials to be zealous in enforcing rules to stop unlawful entry by caravan members.

More migrants from the caravan, which numbered around 400 people by the time it reached Tijuana, also planned to seek asylum. About 100 set up an open air camp in a small square on the Mexican side by the San Ysidro pedestrian bridge, saying they would stay there until they were allowed through.

With no shelter, they laid out towels and blankets on the cold concrete.

‘We’re workers, not murderers’

The mood was somber following a grueling 2,000-mile (3,200-km) treck to the border. US immigration lawyers had warned the migrants of the low odds for winning asylum and the likelihood of detention, separation from relatives and deportation.

"I'm nervous. I'm afraid," said Linda Sonigo, 40, walking solemnly towards the US gate with her two-year-old granddaughter in her arms. "I'm afraid they'll separate us," she said, motioning to her two children and grandchild.

US officials do not usually separate children from parents seeking asylum, although immigration advocates have reported instances of it happening. Families often spend less time in detention than other groups.

After US border officials said the check point was full, organizers of the caravan put forward what they called the "most vulnerable cases" to cross the border first, including children under threat and transgender people who say they face persecution in Central America.

Sonigo said her family was fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. Others from neighbouring Honduras pointed to the repression that followed the disputed reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, with dozens killed in clashes between protesters and the police.

The Honduran president “pays the police to kill people who don’t support him,” said William Gomez, a 24-year-old agricultural labourer. “We’re workers, not murderers or kidnappers, contrary to what Trump claims. He must open the border!”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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