Jeff Ernst, Elisabeth Malkin and Paulina Villegas, New York Times, January 13, 2019
A new caravan of migrants is forming in Honduras, and even ahead of its scheduled departure at dawn on Tuesday, battle lines were being drawn to the north, with some vowing to help them on their journey north, and others to block them.
For President Trump, the timing of the caravan offered fresh ammunition in his fight with Congress over the $5.7 billion he wants for an enhanced border wall between Mexico and the United States. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the federal government.
“There is another major caravan forming right now in Honduras, and so far we’re trying to break it up, but so far it’s bigger than anything we’ve seen,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “And a drone isn’t going to stop it and a sensor isn’t going to stop it, but you know what’s going to stop it in its tracks? A nice, powerful wall.”
It was also unclear on Sunday who put the plan in motion for this caravan.
The first challenge to the migrants may come from their own governments. The deeply unpopular presidents of Honduras and Guatemala, both tarnished by scandal, are eager to maintain the support of the Trump administration. Halting the caravan could help them do that.
On Thursday, the chargé d’affaires in the American Embassy, Heide B. Fulton, traveled to the border with Guatemala to tape a plea to migrants. “Don’t let yourself be fooled,” she said. “Don’t invest your time and money in a journey that is destined to fail.”
In Mexico, the new government, led by the leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which took office on Dec. 1, says it will deal with the migrants more humanely than the preceding administration.
More than 300,000 Central Americans entered Mexico last year, most of them illegally, and an estimated 80 percent of them were bound for the United States border, [Mexico’s Interior minister] Ms. Sánchez Cordero said.
She said migrants in a new caravan who enter the country at official crossing points and register would be granted visas to stay and work in Mexico or permits to travel under the supervision of migration authorities toward the United States border. But those who cross into Mexico illegally, she said, will be deported.
Traveling in caravans offers safety in numbers from the criminal groups and corrupt officials who prey on migrants, activists say. But the size of recent caravans has become “uncontrollable,” said Irineo Mujica, a member of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a transnational group that accompanied earlier caravans in Mexico. It is not organizing this new one.
As the new caravan prepares to leave, the experience of the last one seems to be guiding the response of governments and people along the way.
When the [previous] caravan — almost 6,000 strong — reached Tijuana, the migrants found that a high fence and a very long wait to ask for asylum still separated them from the United States. Migrant shelters overflowed and conditions in them quickly worsened. Some migrants gave up.
But back home in Honduras, the trials of previous caravans have not been a deterrent for those considering joining the new one. The danger and frustrations pale beside the overwhelming fear of being sent back home, said Sister Lidia de Suazo, the coordinator of pastoral care for migrants at the Roman Catholic archdiocese in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
“The majority of those who went with the October caravan were not deported,” she said. “So that sends the message back to the countries of origin, and people say, ‘Let’s go too because they won’t deport us.’ ”
Some of the migrants in Tijuana were considering going south to join the new caravan and accompany those making the trip for the first time. Omar Rivera, 39, a construction worker from El Salvador, was one of them.