Posted on January 22, 2021

U.S.-Bound Caravan Thwarted in Guatemala as Pressure Against Migrants Continues

Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, January 19, 2021

Most of the thousands of migrants who left Honduras for the United States on foot last week have been turned around in Guatemala. By Tuesday morning, more than 3,000 had been detained or forcibly sent back by security forces.

Some in the caravan were aware that President-elect Joe Biden was days away from taking office in Washington and were hopeful that he would make it easier for migrants to enter the United States. But others were oblivious to the political context.

For most, it was their own plight — poverty, security threats, the pair of hurricanes that devastated the Central American nation — that compelled them to join the caravan.

The show of force by Guatemalan authorities was yet another sign of the crackdown on migration through Central America and Mexico that has intensified at the behest of the Trump administration.

For years, migrants saw joining a caravan as a safe and affordable alternative to paying a human smuggler, who might charge more than $10,000 for the journey north and mistreat them along the way. But the method no longer appears viable, as caravans now run headlong into a militarized response by Central American and Mexican security forces, under pressure from Washington and fighting a pandemic.


The number of migrants apprehended at the U.S. border has remained relatively steady since Biden’s election, rising only slightly from 71,726 in October to 73,513 in December. Those numbers — which include multiple entries for migrants who are rapidly expelled under a pandemic-era policy and attempt to cross again — remain far below the recent spike of 144,116 in May 2019.


Citizens of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador normally enjoy freedom of movement among the three countries. But because Guatemala now requires a negative coronavirus test upon arrival, the Honduran migrants were stopped at the border. Still, most of the caravan pushed through the crossing.

Guatemala’s foreign minister, Pedro Brolo, said their entry “violated national sovereignty.”


Authorities said 3,329 people have been detained or returned to Honduras. Some smaller groups have attempted to continue north. But the chances that a substantial group could make it through not only Guatemala but also Mexico, where security forces have already deployed, were slim.

Partly in response to threats from the Trump administration, both Guatemala and Mexico have increased their efforts to combat the transit of migrants through their countries. The Biden administration has not said whether it will continue the pressure, but incoming officials have said that newly arrived migrants will not be able to immediately enter the United States to apply for asylum.

Efforts to deter caravans have also drawn domestic support in Mexico and Central America.

“Some communities had once been supportive of caravans but reached a point where it was too much,” said Maureen Meyer, vice president for programs at the Washington Office on Latin America.

{snip} “The coordination between governments around this caravan suggests there’s not a lot of appetite within these countries for these large movements of people.”