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WASHINGTON — Hundreds of migrants in a new caravan that just reached the U.S. border may have to wait in Northern Mexico for months, because the U.S. agents in the tiny Texas town where they want to cross can only currently process fewer than 20 migrants a day, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.
More than 1,800 migrants arrived in Piedras Negras, Mexico, on Tuesday, just across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas.
Border agents in Eagle Pass can process fewer than 20 asylum seekers a day, but as of now, there are no plans to beef up the number of officers who can administer a credible-fear interview, the first step towards seeking asylum. In a credible-fear interview, an asylum seeker tries to establish there is reason to fear returning home.
The Trump administration is sending 250 active duty troops to Eagle Pass in addition to more Border Patrol agents to enforce border security. Texas Department of Public Safety has deployed dozens of state troopers to Eagle Pass in anticipation of the caravan.
CBP's ability to process asylum seekers depends on the speed with which Immigration and Customs Enforcement can transport immigrants from the border into detention.
The process of allowing only a small number of immigrants to be processed per day is known as metering, and was used for short periods of particularly high surges of immigrants under the Obama administration. However, the Trump administration has continued to use metering for months in San Ysidro, California, triggering the creation of migrant camps in Tijuana. Last month, two Central American boys were lured out of their migrant camp in Tijuana and murdered.
In Tijuana, immigrants keep an informal list of names who are assigned to each number and only those called — usually about 40 — are allowed to approach the port of entry each day.
Immigration advocates worry about the poor conditions immigrants may face if they are forced to wait in Piedras Negras, a small town with little capacity to care for a large number of newcomers with no homes. They have called for the administration to deploy more resources, including asylum officers, to the border to help process more immigrants per day.
The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that it will begin turning back those asylum seekers who do reach the port of entry, starting in San Ysidro with plans to expand to other parts of the border. Those asylum seekers will have to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases can be heard.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety declined to comment. A spokesperson for CBP did not respond to a request for comment.