*This post was updated on Dec. 11, 2018 to reflect new information.*
On October 12, 2018, a small group of Hondurans, fewer than 200 individuals, agreed to meet and travel together through Central America and Mexico in an effort to escape the violence and political repression in their home country. As the group moved through the region and word spread of their journey north, their numbers grew; and at one point it was estimated there were as many as 7,000 individuals traveling in the caravan. This highly publicized caravan was just one of several that have since begun traveling north.
To help you better understand the situation, LIRS has compiled some of the most commonly asked questions on this topic.
- Who are the people traveling in the caravan?
- Why are they leaving?
- Where are the migrants now?
- How has the U.S. government responded to the migrants approaching the border?
- Will there be troops at the border during the holidays?
- What is the “Remain in Mexico” Plan?
- Do the migrants pose a threat to the United States?
- Do the migrants have a right to seek asylum?
- What options do the migrants have?
- What can you do to help?
Who are the people traveling in the caravan?
Since October 2018, there have been four distinct caravans travelling from the northern part of Central America. These four groups left at different times and were varying sizes.
Although the make-up, origin, and departure date of these caravans are different, the motivations for their journeys have remained largely the same. The individuals that are traveling are fleeing persecution, poverty, and extreme violence that made their home no longer safe or livable.
It is likely that caravans will continue to amass and travel north, as the life-threatening conditions that are pushing people out of their homes are not going away. Migrants will continue to flee as long as they are persecuted. Even if the United States turns away all of the migrants that are currently at the border, others will still follow, searching for a safe place to live.
Why are they leaving their home countries?
There are a number of reasons people are fleeing. However, the principal reasons are tied to the increased violence, political repression, and organized crime in Honduras and other countries in the Northern Triangle. The increased militarization of their countries of origin, corruption, organized crime, crack-down on political dissenters, and threats of extortion are causing people to fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They are packing up their homes and leaving everything behind because they have no other options. Many of the people traveling have had members of their family killed and are fleeing as a last resort.
Where are the migrants now?
Over 7,000 migrants have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border after having traveled more than 2,500 miles through the northern part of Central America and Mexico. These migrants are currently staying in temporary shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.
There are still thousands of migrants on their way. An estimated 10,000 more could reach the border within the next few months.
How has the United States government responded to the migrants approaching the border?
Both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have issued statements emphasizing that the “whole border” will be closed if necessary to prevent migrants from entering the United States.
On November 25, the administration temporarily shut down one of the ports of entry at the border, prohibiting any movement over the border. In response, migrants held a protest to show their frustration toward the deliberate and extremely slow processing of asylum seekers. As the group began pushing against a border fence, U.S. agents fired tear gas on them. The tear gas drifted at least half a mile affecting numerous children and families, many of whom had not participated in the demonstration.
The increased military support at the border was intended to build a security barrier along the border. As of now, the troops at the border are not equipped with guns but some carry shields and batons
President Trump has implied that the troops at the border are permitted to respond to migrants with violence. In a recent interview, he said, “If they have to, they’re going to use lethal force, I’ve given the OK.” In response to this, the Department of Homeland Security has made it clear that only DHS agents have the legal authority to call for the use of lethal force, and it is only permitted in the case of a direct threat against federal agents. According to the Secretary of Defense and other DHS officials, no such authority has been given.
Will there be troops at the border during the holidays?
The administration has sent almost 6,000 troops to the border in the last month. The Defense Secretary recently approved a request for 5,000 troops to stay through the holidays. They were originally supposed to return home on December 15. The troops will now be there until at least January 31. This means that 5,000 families will miss their loved ones at Christmas so that they can remain at the border.
What is the “Remain in Mexico” Plan?
The administration is now proposing that those who have applied for asylum in the United States would stay in Mexico while their claims are processed. This would leave migrants in the northern cities of Mexico for undetermined amounts of time with no support or protection to ensure their safety.
The ACLU and other groups have made it clear this ‘Remain in Mexico’ proposal violates U.S. law and international treaty obligations. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention prohibits states from returning refugees to territories where their lives and freedoms will be threatened. Considering the widespread violence in Mexico, it is currently not a safe place for asylum seekers to stay.
Even with extensive protections in place, the law clearly expresses that the U.S. government cannot legally expel migrants from the country once they have filed an asylum claim. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states in Section 208 (b)(5) that asylees are permitted to apply for asylum at the border and that they can remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed.
Do the migrants pose a threat to the United States?
Contrary to the narrative established by the administration, there is no evidence to suggest that the groups of people arriving at the border have violent or dangerous intentions. These migrants are primarily from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. They are escaping life-threatening conditions caused by natural disasters, corrupt governments, and dangerous gang violence. They are coming to the United States to seek protection from the U.S. government. Many are mothers who are simply trying to save the lives of their children. These families are fleeing from violence, they do not want to create it.
Do the migrants have a right to seek asylum?
Yes, under INA Section 235 (b)(1) the United States is obliged to provide a credible fear interview for any migrant that comes to the U.S. saying that they are escaping persecution due to race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion that makes it unsafe for them to return to their home country. If it is determined after investigation that the asylum seeker is fleeing severe persecution, then they are considered to be a refugee according to international law. Even if an asylum seeker enters the United States between ports of entry without documentation, they still have the right to claim asylum.
If an asylum seeker is not found to be fleeing severe and life-threatening persecution, even if they are fleeing poverty or another dangerous or devastating situation, they are not given refugee status and are not entitled to the same protections.
What options do the migrants have?
Some migrants have already started to return to their country of origin. Others have decided to stay in Mexico and pursue a life there. The Mexican government has agreed to let migrants to stay as long as they obey laws and register with the government. So far about 30% of the individuals from the caravans are seeking asylum in Mexico – or approximately 3,300 people.
For some, staying in Mexico is a safe and viable option. For others, this is not the case. They seek the protection of the United States because their lives are still threatened while in Mexico. Additionally, the Mexican government has made it clear that although they are willing to support some asylum seekers, they do not have the capacity to assist all of the migrants that are on the move or the others that will undoubtedly follow.
What Can You Do to Help?
The individuals in this caravan need assistance NOW. It is essential that they get support before reaching the border as well as after. They need humanitarian aid as well as legal assistance.
Sign this Petition: You can click here to sign a pledge in solidarity with these families and find ways to support them.
Circulate the facts: Communities need to educate one another on who these families are and why they are fleeing. Share this post with your networks, and help us inform people about the issue.
Identify and collect humanitarian aid and resources: these women and children need food, clothes, shelter, medicine, medical care, mental health resources and legal assistance.