By Eric Levenson and Khushbu Shah, CNN
A caravan of hundreds of migrants reached the US-Mexico border on Sunday afternoon after a monthlong trip from Central America that has riled President Donald Trump.
On Sunday morning, migrants in the caravan gathered at Friendship Park in Tijuana and prepared to march to the border, where they planned to ask for asylum in the United States. Buses carrying members of the caravan reached Tijuana on Tuesday.
In anticipation of the final march, demonstrators lined both sides of the border on Sunday.
The migrants say they want a better life for themselves and their children, safe from violence and poverty in their home countries. The caravan is both a humanitarian and an activist mission, as organizers created the event to draw greater attention to the migrants’ plight.
One such migrant is Gabriela Hernandez, a pregnant mother of two who fled Honduras and crossed Guatemala into Mexico to join the group heading north. She and her two sons left behind their friends and family and battled hunger and exhaustion along the monthlong journey.
“There are people who think I just woke up and said, ‘Oh, I want to just go to the United States.’ It’s not that easy,” she said.
Isabel Rodriguez, 52, traveled with her two grandchildren, Anderson, 7, and Cristofer, 11, from El Salvador with the caravan over several weeks. She said she was grateful to be in Tijuana but was worried about what’s ahead.
“I hear they are separating people who are not parents of children,” she said, “but I am ready to get to the border.”
Why this caravan is unlike others
Similar migrant caravans have ventured toward the US border for the last several years. But this trip has become better known because of critical tweets from Trump and the heightened controversy surrounding immigration policy.
Trump has encouraged Mexico to break up the caravans and tweeted that he would not accept the migrants into the country.
“I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL,” Trump wrote.
“If members of the ‘caravan’ enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.
Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott of the US Customs and Border Protection said several groups of people associated with the caravan illegally entered the United States by climbing over a metal fence.
“We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door, and answer questions honestly,” he said in a statement.
It is not illegal to enter the country at a port of entry and ask for asylum, as international law requires that the United States consider asylum claims. The migrants say they’re not planning to sneak across the border, but to turn themselves in peacefully and ask for asylum.
“People who have a legitimate fear of persecution under US law have a right to present their case,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee on immigration, said on Monday. “That’s not a violation of immigration law. That’s a part of immigration law.”
In general, having asylum granted is difficult. More than three-quarters of immigrants seeking asylum from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala between 2011 and 2016 lost their cases, according to immigration court statistics published by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.