Immigrants can seek asylum in the U.S. if they have experienced, or if they have a reasonable fear of, persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. It is entirely legal for people to seek asylum at any U.S. border crossing.
Therefore, it came as a bit of a surprise last weekend when the border crossing at San Ysidro, California, announced that it had "reached capacity" and could not begin processing the so-called "caravan" of asylum seekers who had traveled through Mexico to reach the U.S. border.
Approximately 200 people arrived with the caravan. They are primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, although federal prosecutors claim that some may be from India and Mexico. According to reports, many of the migrants have harrowing stories to tell of the violence in their home countries. Their journey from Central America typically involved travel by foot, on freight trains, and with the caravan.
On Monday, however, eight people were allowed past the gate at the border crossing in order to press their applications for asylum. These were three women, four children and an 18-year-old. (Children who are under 21 and unmarried can be included on a parent's asylum application.) Reports from the border indicate that another group was allowed in on Tuesday morning, after activists began calling U.S. Customs and Border Protection to implore officials to admit the asylum seekers.
Also on Tuesday, officials announced that 11 people had been arrested for illegal entry. While the complaints do not mention it, the arrestees are suspected of traveling with the caravan. They were each arrested separately within about 5 miles of the port of entry, many in an area called "Goat Canyon."
Although there is indeed widespread violence in parts of Central America, that may not be enough to convince U.S. immigration officials to grant asylum to members of the caravan. The applicants must individually prove that they have a reasonable fear of persecution for a specific reason, and generalized fear of the violence may not satisfy the requirements.
The U.S. asylum process can be hard to complete successfully. An experienced immigration lawyer can help potential asylees organize their evidence and present a convincing case for asylum.