Joe Biden is already facing his first immigration challenge, with his transition team forced to respond to a caravan of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers making its way to the U.S. border.
On Sunday, a Biden transition official sought to deter those traveling with the caravan from continuing the journey, warning that the incoming administration’s arrival will not mean open borders.
“Overcoming the challenges created by the chaotic and cruel policies of the last four years, and those presented by Covid-19, will take time,” the official told Reuters, speaking on background.
“In the meantime, the journey to the United States remains extraordinarily dangerous, and those in the region should not believe anyone peddling the lie that our border will be open to everyone next month,” the official said.
Despite the warning, between 7,000 and 8,000 people are estimated to be traveling with the caravan, including families with small children.
On Sunday, Guatemalan forces clashed with a large group of the caravan’s members, with officers using sticks and tear gas in an aggressive effort to stop the group in its tracks.
According to Reuters, the clash unfolded early on Sunday morning with security officials seeking to prevent some 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers from moving forward as they reached the village of Vado Hondo, roughly six miles south of Chiquimula in southeastern Guatemala.
“We want the Guatemalans to let us past,” Joaquin Ortiz, a Honduran traveling with the caravan told the agency. “Because we’re not leaving here. We’re going to carry on. I want to get through because it’s horrible in our country. There’s nothing in Honduras.”
With migrants and asylum seekers determined to reach the U.S., Biden will likely be forced to address the situation head-on over the coming days.
As it stands, there are still thousands of migrants and asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed in the U.S. under Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
Biden has vowed to overturn MPP, better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, but he has warned that it will not be a simple process.
Initially, during his presidential campaign, Biden had vowed to see the controversial policy overturned at the start of his presidency. However, in late December he walked back on that vow, asserting during a press conference that “it will get done…but it’s not going to be able to be done on day one.”
It is unclear how the Biden administration will respond to the coming caravan if it is able to make it to the U.S. border, with Central American countries and Mexico having ramped up efforts to prevent irregular migration, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.