On October 12, 2018, the migrant caravan began with 5,000 migrants walking from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. The migrant caravan is essentially an anti-mafia march, thousands of people deciding to flee from criminal organization in their home countries. This is not something the world has not seen before, it seems to be a phenomenon: big groups of Central Americans uniting together to face the challenges of migration. However, this is the first time people decide to flee from criminal threats in such numbers, it is the largest anti-mafia march in history. Three weeks later, these migrants reached the Mexican capital after enduring rain and scorching heat.
Why do migrants join caravans, when migrants traveling alone or even in small groups face dangerous threats? Many migrants are encountering threats such as: kidnappings, torture, and abandonment alone while on their journey to the U.S. These threats why Central American migrants have started organizing themselves into caravans, seeking protection by openly traveling together. The caravan offered a safety and security on a route where many migrants have previously disappeared or been kidnapped and also a way to avoid the high price of hiring a smuggler to aid in crossing the border. Many say they are fleeing persecution, poverty, and violence from their hometowns and countries. Furthermore, they have stated that their ultimate goal is to settle in the U.S. despite warnings from U.S. officials that they will be arrested prosecuted and deported ow, they have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border where they staying in temporary shelters in border cities located in Mexicali and Tijuana. In addition, there are four more groups from El Salvador who have also left their hometown at the end of October currently heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. officials predict that the number of migrants that will reach the border is around 10,000.
Why would so many people voluntarily agree to go through such a grueling journey? Those participating in the caravan are making the gruesome journey for various reasons. Some say they are fleeing from gang violence that has terrorized their neighborhoods and daily life. Others are in search of better employment and stability for their family. Teens leave to help their families but also in search of a better life, in search to accomplish their dreams. One teen named Jennifer Paola Lopez from Honduras was traveling with a group of friends from her neighborhood. They had previously discussed the possibility of going to the U.S. but did not have the money to pay for the costs of traveling or to pay a smuggler. However, when a neighbor told them about the caravan, they decided to join. Jenifer left her family behind as well because she knew that she was their only hope for a better life. Jenifer stated that “There isn’t work or anything. You can’t live in Honduras. There isn’t money,” and added “There’s no help from the government. There’s nothing.”
Before the November 6 midterms, President Trump took to state that “many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan heading to our southern border” and warned potential/ perspective migrants that”our military is waiting for you”. Furthermore, on November 2, he told a group of voters at a political rally in Columbia, Missouri that “if you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican”. He meant what he said and took action to took action to stop this caravan. Trump then deployed about 5,800 troops to the southern border to “harden” it and even added concertina wire, a type of barbed or razor wire, to some stretches of the border fence. This border fence is a series of vertical barriers found all along the US-Mexico border to prevent illegal crossings from Mexico to the U.S. In addition to deploying troops and adding new fencing, the Trump administration also announced a new policy on November 9 which denied asylum to those migrants crossing the southern border illegally. However, Judge John S. Tiger of the US District Court for the Northern District of California issues a temporary banning order effective nationwide that blocks the Trump administration from denying asylum claims to immigrants who cross the border illegally. The U.S. authorities also briefly closed the port of entry to San Ysidro to “restrict access to a large group attempting to run through the border crossing”. To finish off, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that “this administration will not tolerate frivolous asylum claims or illegal entry”.
All this has made many migrants have to reconsider and weigh their options again. Most of them started their journey with the plan of reaching the U.S. and some seeking asylum there. However, one important thing to note is that those seeking asylum most are fleeing due to a serious fear of persecution. These are considered refugees under international law. Yet, the latin American migrants attempting to reach the U.S in the caravans, even if they are fleeing devastating poverty are not considered refugees and do not have the same protections. For these people, their only options are risking deportation or to stay in and or return to Mexico.
In November 2018, these thousands of Central American migrants reached Tijuana where many awaited to seek asylum. Some migrants tried to cross the border at the San Ysidro port of entry which raised the tensions as authorities used tear gas, a chemical weapon that causes severe eye pain, skin irritation, bleeding and even blindness, to separate the group. Currently, it seems as though migrant caravans like this one have fizzled out. Although migrants are still traveling in groups, it seems as though they have dispersed into smaller groups. The President of the Migration Policy Institute, Andrew Selee, stated: “The innovation of traveling in groups without a smuggler may persist, but it seems to be devolving into smaller groups”. While traveling in a caravan proved to be a great way to traverse Mexico, it became impractical in the U.S. where entry was difficult.