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The Mexico migrant caravan that gave Trump fits

Victoria Razo, AFP | Central American migrants taking part in a caravan called “Migrant Via Crucis “ towards the US queue for food at a sports field in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, on April 3, 2018.

In early April, US President Donald Trump took the drastic step of ordering the National Guard to his country’s border with Mexico after seeing images of a caravan of migrants en route.

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Now, asylum seekers from that disbanded caravan group have been halted from entering the United States, with authorities saying the San Ysidro port of entry had reached capacity.

Who are these migrants and the caravan across Mexico causing Trump such alarm?

For the most part, they are women, children and elderly people. They are “vulnerable and desperate folks”, Rodrigo Abeja, one of the leaders Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), said earlier this month. This advocacy group has accompanied the migrants across Mexico to the US.

In early April, President Trump ordered the National Guard to contain illegal immigration at his country’s frontier with Mexico. “The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security and sovereignty of the American people,” Trump wrote as he authorised the deployment.

That drastic move followed days of angry Trump tweets in the wake of a Buzzfeed News story headlined provocatively, “A Huge caravan of Central Americans is headed for the US, and no one in Mexico dares to stop them”. The title incensed the caravan’s guides, who said the migrants they accompany are fleeing violent gangs, poverty and political repression.

Caravan of courage

Pueblo Sin Fronteras has coordinated this sort of caravan since 2010 in condemnation of the plight of migrants crossing Mexico who face myriad dangers, between the drug cartels who kidnap or kill them and the authorities who hold them for ransom. Made up of volunteers, the NGO allows migrants to remain in a group to help guard against such perils over the long journey on foot, by bus and by train. Indeed, in Spanish, the caravans are known as “Via Crucis Migrantes” or “Migrants’ Way of the Cross”, a reference to the Catholic processions often staged in South America representing Jesus Christ’s journey carrying the cross to his crucifixion.

This year, the group set off on March 25 from Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Eighty percent of the 1,200 people who made the journey were Honduran, alongside migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to Pueblo Sin Fronteras’s Abeja. Among them were 300 young children ranging in age from newborn to 11, about 20 young homosexuals and 400 women.

One of the migrants, Eduardo Arevalo, pointing to a leg injury, explained he was fleeing the violence in his native El Salvador where his life was under threat. The 29-year-old left with his wife and two children in tow hoping to seek asylum in the US. “My dream is to offer a better life to my children, so they don’t have to be afraid of going out in the street or that they could be killed,” Eduardo explained.

‘Workers, not murderers’

The Hondurans in the caravan told of fleeing a political crisis and violence on the rise in that country since President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s re-election in November, a vote the opposition says was tainted by fraud. About 30 people have been killed since the disputed poll.

One Honduran, William Gomez, said he was fleeing political repression in a country whose president “pays the police to kill people who don’t support him”. The 24-year-old machine operator added that work is sparse back home.

Carol Torres, meanwhile, was forced to leave her two children, aged five and nine, behind in Honduras after her husband ordered gang members to attack her, she said. “They dragged me from my house, brought me all the way to the border and told me to get out of the country,” the 26-year-old Torres told Agence France-Presse.

“We’re workers, not murderers or kidnappers, contrary to what Trump claims,” Gomez said. “He must open the border!”

Caravan overwhelmed

As it happens, the caravan would finally grind to a halt on its own. “Our work will wrap up in Mexico,” Irineo Mujica, the Pueblo Sin Fronteras leader who was guiding the group, said on April 4, the same day Trump signed his memorandum saying the situation at the border had “reached a point of crisis”.

The guides admitted they were overwhelmed by the size of this year’s caravan. “There are too many children – 450 in all. There are lots of babies,” explained Mujica, who believed most of the migrants would remain in Mexico, where more than half have family. He made clear that those who still wanted to press on to the border would have to “do so by their own means”.

After a marked drop in 2017 – during Trump’s first year in office – the number of people apprehended trying to cross into the United States has jumped. According to official data, 50,308 people were intercepted in March, the highest figure for a month of March since 2014.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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