By: Selene C. Vazquez
Thousands of Central American migrants left their home countries and have embarked on a more than a thousand-mile journey towards the U.S.–Mexican border with their families. Some of the children are as young as a few weeks old. As these migrants flee poverty and violent crime, they hope to seek political asylum in the U.S. or Mexico.
The “Migrant Caravan” has become a center of controversy for the U.S. and Latin America. On one hand, many, including the United Nations, have expressed concerns about the extreme conditions the migrants face, the protection of their humanitarian rights, and the stress this migration places on the humanitarian community and asylum systems. On the other hand, the President of the United States has said that he will not permit entry to caravan members, despite the U.S. being legally required to consider the cases of asylum seekers. Most recently, the President has also ordered 5,200 U.S. troops to the border in response to the caravan. These controversies have raised legal and social concerns.
The “Next” Move – Currently
It estimated that over 2,700 asylum requests have been processed by the Mexican Government. Nearly 500 Honduran migrants have voluntarily returned to their native country with assistance from the Mexican authorities and consular officials.
A third group has opted to continue north towards the U.S. from Mexico City. Latest numbers predict about 3,500 to 5,000 migrants, all of whom must now choose which route to take to the U.S. Some migrants hope to arrive at Tijuana, Mexico, located near California, by train. Some believe this is the safest route, although it is twice as long as the most direct route to Brownsville, Texas.
The Origins and The Risks
The migrants embarked on this caravan a month ago, fleeing unemployment, violence, corruption, and prosecution in their home countries. Most migrants are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—a region has the highest murder rates in the world.
Migrants leaving their homelands for the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, but migrant caravans are. Traveling in numbers gives migrants a sense of safety and allows them to avoid the dangers of travelling alone without paying thousands of dollars to smugglers. Nevertheless, the journey is still demanding and dangerous. They face dehydration, lack of clean water and sanitation, and a short supply of food.
The United Nations has stated that the caravan is an expression of the migration process the region has been facing. The “mixed migration flow,” according to the United Nations, is driven by “economic factors, family reunification, violence and the search for international protection.” Experts have stated that this latest crisis in the Americas is a result of “drug trafficking, organized crime, corruption and the absence of democracy,” and climate change, as drier conditions has destroyed crops.
Special Attention and Controversies – Political Asylum
Unlike other convoys, this caravan received special attention from around the globe. The President has proclaimed that he would deny political asylum to any migrant seeking it, but this has not come without any international or domestic legal challenges.
The United Nations has denounced the President’s position and stated that the U.S. must abide by international refugee protection accords, including the 1867 Refugee Protocol to which the U.S. is a party. Under international law, there is a legal obligation to hear asylum claims from migrants who have arrived in the U.S. if they say they fear violence in their home countries.
In June, Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that the “credible fear” asylum rule has been exploited and announced that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence no longer qualified. The Southern Poverty Law Center has brought suit to this new policy.
Troops Deployed to the Border
Most recently, the President has ordered over 5,200 troops to the U.S. border in anticipation of the caravan. Operation “border support” (“Faithful Patriot”) is estimated to cost up to $200 million.
Most troops are in Texas, while others are along Arizona and California. It is unclear what exactly their protocol will be. Unlike border agents, troops are not allowed to detain immigrants. For now, they lay barb wire barriers and camp sites. Military officials hope the training can be used for future deployments. The President’s critics have denounced this move as an expensive campaign stunt to instill immigration fear in support of his political platform.
The caravan has traveled about 20-30 miles a day; waking up at by 3 a.m. each day to take advantage of cooler temperatures. It is likely that the migrant number will continue to thin out as they approach the border. However, even if large numbers arrived, it is not expected to overwhelm border agents. They arrest or deny entry to about 1,685 undocumented immigrants a day.
In a larger context, experience from other parts of the world suggests more caravans are likely. This has been observed in migrants from Sudanese to Kenya, and most recently from Rohingya into Bangladesh. Unless enlightened policies are enacted, and states figure out a more permanent solution to address the push factors, caravans will continue in the Americas as populations seek safety elsewhere.