Migrant Caravan Approaches U.S. Border
As multiple caravans of Central American migrants seeking asylum continue to travel through Mexico to reach the United States, Republicans in the White House and Congress have ramped up their rhetoric against migrants in the days leading up to the American midterm elections on November 6. Time reports that violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras has caused migrants to travel in caravans towards the United States for years. President Donald Trump has ratcheted up attacks against these migrants in an effort to appeal to voters in critical Senate races.
Region wide violence in Central American states is fueling increased rates of Central American migration to the United States, which surpassed the rate of undocumented Mexican migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. The Northern Triangle countries rank in the top 10 in the world in homicide, according to the Brookings Institute. In a study done by researchers at Vanderbilt University, around 80 percent of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador have been victims of crime at least once within the last year prior to migrating.
This uptick in immigration resulted in a multi-pronged effort by the Obama administration to discourage migrants from attempting to reach the United States. According to the Vanderbilt University study, the “know-before- you-go” media campaigns, which highlighted the difficulties of the journey north, ultimately proved ineffective. According to Vox, U.S. investment in Mexico for border security in the Mexico-Guatemala border region essentially militarized Mexico’s border. This has discouraged immigrants from using well- trodden routes north, making them more vulnerable to abuse by gangs throughout Mexico. This in turn encourages migrants to travel in larger groups for protection.
The original caravan began as an organized group of less than 200 Hondurans leaving San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras aiming to receive asylum in the United States on October 12, and by Atlantic Council’s estimates, has grown to encompass over 7000 migrants by October 24. According to the Washington Post, the caravan reached Juchitán, Oaxaca and attempted to negotiate with the Mexican government to receive bus transportation hundreds of miles north to Mexico City. Two more caravans have begun their journey to the U.S., the larger of the two consisting of 2000 to 3000 people, according to estimates by USA Today.
In an effort to slow immigration, bus services were denied to the first group of migrants. According to Time, President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled the You Are Home project aimed at incentivizing remaining in Mexico’s southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca with the promise of food, shelter, education, and jobs for migrants. According to the Mexican Interior Secretary Alonso Navarrete Prida, 2300 migrants have already applied for this plan and hundreds more have applied for repatriation.
According to the Washington Post, the initiative received an overwhelmingly warm response from the Trump administration, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stating on October 31 that “Mexico has stepped up in an unprecedented way... [to] keep [migrants] from moving as aggressively towards the U.S.” After President Trump threatened to cut off aid to the Northern Triangle countries, the presidents of those countries set a meeting on November 3 to discuss the repatriation of their citizens and how to curb violence in the region, reported BBC.
The caravans have become the focus of renewed anti-immigration rhetoric by the Trump administration in the days winding up to the U.S. midterm elections. According to USA Today, President Trump has, through the Pentagon, mobilized 5200 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. He vowed to deploy “between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Control, ICE and everybody else at the border,” as reported by the Washington Post. Trump has also declared his intention to sign an executive action that will, according to CNN, restrict asylum seekers from requesting asylum outside of legal ports of entry.
President Trump has recently declared his intention to get rid of birthright citizenship to disincentivize illegal immigration and claimed that troops will shoot at migrants who throw rocks. Several high-ranking Republicans have disavowed these comments, with Governor John Kasich of Ohio telling CNN that “there are ethical lines that can’t be crossed” and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin telling NBC that “President Trump cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.”
Despite the aggressive stance taken by Trump, the migrants do not seem discouraged. Orbelina Orellana from San Pedro Sula, Honduras summed up the outlook of the majority of these migrants in her statement to Time, “Our destiny is to get to the border.”