For the last few months, the topic of immigration in public discourse has been dominated by discussion surrounding the “migrant caravan.” These caravans are large groups of immigrants fleeing Central America with the hope of finding safety across the U.S. border. Commentary on the journey of these migrant caravans started earlier this year and has risen to a furor. Arguments in support and opposition of the mission of the caravan have gained traction in the media. The conversation has become mired in the political thicket, and attention has been drawn away from the very real plight of the migrants on their journey. The caravan and its many members face significant threats to their safety on their way to a better life.
The migrant caravan as it is now known does not represent a single cohesive group. The scope has broadened to encompass a general increasing wave of refugees fleeing violence and poor economic conditions in several Central American countries. Many of the immigrants in these caravans are from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala, the “Northern Triangle” countries. These migrants organize as groups in large numbers to make the journey together for protection and safety. Humanitarian organizations help to support these caravans, which may present the only chance immigrants have for better opportunities.
Immigrants in these caravans have endured many dangers and hardships on the road to prosperity. The most obvious obstacle is the distance required to travel. The distance between the U.S. border and the Northern Triangle countries spans thousands of miles. Most of the journey is made on foot with rare opportunities for rides from passing cars or trucks. This long trek on foot puts the thousands of refugees in a very vulnerable position. On their journey they are at risk for targeted violence, kidnapping, and trafficking.
Many reports have surfaced of caravan members becoming victims of human trafficking and related crimes. As the caravans pass slowly through areas controlled by dangerous criminal organizations, with little to no law enforcement protection, they are especially vulnerable to violence. Around 100 migrants, including some children, are suspected to have gone missing a few weeks ago before they were expected to arrive in Mexico City. Human rights organizations are concerned that these migrants fell victim to drug cartels that are known to engage in human trafficking.
Mexican authorities have offered aid to many caravan members at various locations in the country. Mexico City opened the doors to a large sports arena, erected tents, and provided other forms of civil service to refugees. The Mexican government has also offered asylum status for those in the caravan wishing to seek residence within Mexico. While appealing to some, most travelers seem to prefer the prospect of asylum within U.S. borders instead, and they intend to push on. However, they will face increasingly stiff opposition from the tangle of law and rhetoric associated with U.S. immigration policy.
Recently, the U.S. President has attempted to label the migrant caravan and its refugees as an invading force which must be repelled in the interest of national security. The administration has ordered thousands of military service members to the border as part of this narrative. Soldiers from the National Guard have been deployed to Texas and other border states. Upon reaching the border, asylum seekers will face armed troops, barbed wire, and an increasingly inflammatory political environment.
Deploying troops and fueling the fire of public opinion is not all the government has done in answer to the large numbers of refugees from Central America. The current administration outlined a plan to restrict asylum benefits for those who do not cross the border through a legal port-of-entry. A federal judge issued an injunction against this action as it is plainly contrary to current asylum laws. These laws do not discriminate refugee claims on the basis of where a person entered the country. Limiting asylum could further damage these immigrants ability to enter the U.S. to live and work.
Asylum cases can be complex and case-specific. If you, or anyone you know, have questions about applying for asylum or other immigration benefits in the U.S., please contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.
Sources and further reading:
Migrant Caravan Overview
Troops Deployed to Border
Mexico and the Caravan
Changes in Asylum and Subsequent Legal Response