By Delphine Schrank
TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Eight women and children from a Central American caravan entered U.S. territory to seek asylum on Monday, after a month-long journey through Mexico that drew President Donald Trump's wrath.
Carrying scant possessions with them, the asylum seekers walked through a door into the San Ysidro port of entry on the bidding of a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, a Reuters witness said, hours after Vice President Mike Pence promised they would be processed in line with U.S. law.
The first to enter were part of a small group from the caravan who Mexican officials let walk over a pedestrian bridge on Sunday and who have been camped at the San Ysidro gate ever since, when the CBP said the facility between Tijuana and San Diego was saturated.
Fleeing what they say are death threats, extortion and violence in neighborhoods controlled by the powerful Mara street gangs, once in the United States the migrants must convince officials they have reason to fear returning home.
The majority of claims by Central American asylum seekers are ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in detention and deportation. The Trump administration says many asylum claims are fake, aided by loopholes in the law.
Shaken and elated by the sudden turn of events, the remaining 15 women and children at the gate waited to see if the officer returned to let more through. Ayde Hernandez, from Guatemala, beamed and said she hoped she was next to go through.
The caravan has been in the spotlight ever since it began a more than 2,000-mile (3,200 km) journey from southern Mexico, gathering 1,500 people at one point, to the fury of Trump, who demanded that officials do not let such groups into the country.
His administration's hands are tied, however, by international rules obliging the United States to accept asylum applications.
By the time it reached the U.S. border the caravan had dwindled to a few hundred people.
Asylum seekers must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution at home, most often from a state entity. Central Americans fare badly in such claims, because threats from criminal groups are not considered state entities.
A larger group of about 150 people has not been let onto the pedestrian crossing and was preparing for a second night sleeping in an open plaza on the Mexican side. Hoping they will also be let through to make their case, members of the group raised fists and cheered in celebration when they heard some of their companions had crossed.
(Reporting by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Cynthia Osterman & Shri Navaratnam)