SAN DIEGO (CN) – Federal authorities on Tuesday charged nearly a dozen suspected asylum-seeking members of a caravan from Central America with illegal entry, as a handful of mothers and children from the group were allowed to begin the asylum process.
The Department of Justice filed criminal charges against 11 people suspected to have participated in the month-long caravan, in which hundreds of Central Americans wove their way through Mexico by train and on foot seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing violence in their home countries.
The defendants were arrested in different locations within five miles of the San Ysidro Port of Entry near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. Hundreds of other Central Americans wait at the port of entry for processing by immigration officials.
According to the complaints, most of the immigrants were apprehended Friday near an area known as “Goat Canyon.” Two were arrested late Sunday night.
While the complaints note some of the suspects came from Central American countries where many caravan members hailed from – including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – they make no mention of the caravan or any defendant admitting to have traveled with the caravan.
According to federal prosecutors, some of the detainees were traveling with people from India and Mexico.
Only one of the 11 arrested has been previously deported.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said United States “will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, whose members will be in the Southern District of California on Friday to challenge Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practice of separating asylum-seeking families, will not comment on the arrests of caravan members according to spokeswoman Gabriela Melendez.
Tuesday’s charges came after immigration officials reopened the port of entry late Monday and some of the first members of the caravan began their asylum applications.
On Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced the port of entry had “reached capacity” and there was no room to house the asylum-seekers while their cases are processed.
But a day later, eight members of the caravan – including three mothers, four children and an 18-year-old – were admitted into the San Ysidro Port of Entry, according to caravan organizer Pueblo Sin Fronteras. They were the first group to be allowed into the country.
According to reports from the border, an additional group of asylum-seekers was allowed to enter the port of entry Tuesday morning. Activists have apparently been calling Customs and Border Protection to advocate on behalf of the asylum-seekers and implore immigration officials to allow them in.
Customs and Border Protection has not confirmed how many asylum-seekers have been allowed into the United States.