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Trump Keeps Up Criticism Of 'Caravan Migrants' Who Seek Asylum In The U.S.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's an update now on that group of migrants camped out at the U.S. border station in Tijuana, Mexico, hoping for political asylum. This is the caravan from Central America that drew President Trump's interest. The migrants were told at first that they could not be processed by U.S. border officials. But last night, the first few were processed. Dozens more are still waiting. NPR's Carrie Kahn has been spending time with them.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The migrants have set up camp outside on the sidewalk just at the bottom of a ramp that leads out of Tijuana and into San Diego, sleeping on the ground on blankets next to backpacks with their belongings covered in plastic tarps. Clouds grow dark and mist falls. The dozens of kids in the group kick around a soccer ball. Twenty-three-year-old Iris Marlenes and her 6-year-old daughter spent the past two nights sleeping on the hard concrete.

IRIS MARLENES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This was nothing like sleeping on the top of the train we rode on to get here. At least the ground doesn't move," she says. Marlenes says she left El Salvador more than two months ago, fleeing gang violence.

MARLENES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They won't let us all in," she says, "But we aren't leaving here until they do." U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they have limited capacity to handle new asylum applications. Meanwhile, President Trump is keeping an eye on the migrants' progress. He tweeted that the group is openly defying our borders. And Vice President Pence, on a nearby trip to the border in Calexico, Calif., yesterday, accused the migrants of deliberately undermining U.S. laws.

ALEX MENSING: Basically what's going on here is a crime, and it's being committed by the U.S. government.

KAHN: Alex Mensing, an organizer of the caravan, says the migrants aren't doing anything illegal. They are trying to follow the law and formally ask for asylum. Meanwhile, more migrants, some from Honduras, Venezuela, even Russia and Iran, have gathered in the plaza, which has quickly become a major encampment. Rene Garcia, from Mexico, says they've been keeping an orderly list of everyone waiting for an appointment with U.S. asylum officers.

RENE GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Some of the people on the list, he says, have been waiting eight days. Others, six. He says there are more than 300 people on the list, and it's not fair if the caravan migrants get to jump ahead of them all. While they wait, activists supporting the caravan have lined up sponsors in the U.S. to house any asylum-seekers who make it through. Laurie Anderson, a Disciples of Christ minister in Kansas City, says her extra bedroom is ready. She says President Trump's attitude toward the migrants is hypocritical.

LAURIE ANDERSON: If the administration is so worried about following the law and the rules, then start by following your own and at least have the courage to process folks at the border for asylum.

KAHN: Jill Cowie of Harvard, Mass., signed up to sponsor a migrant from the caravan, the 23-year-old Iris Marlenes from El Salvador and her 6-year-old daughter.

JILL COWIE: We'll still be here if it takes a long time. My doors will be open.

KAHN: She says for however long it takes.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.