Migrant Caravans to the U.S. Border

1/4/2019

Immigration formOver the last two decades, groups of migrant individuals and families have made their way to the United States to seek safer living conditions and better opportunities.

Migrants undertake these long journeys often to escape violence, hunger and unemployment and transnational organized crime. In 2018, there have been two migrant caravans; one in the spring, and one that began in October. As of Nov. 18, 2,500 migrants had arrived at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico across the border from the U.S. port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif.

Where Are They Coming From?

Migrants began marching toward the U.S. on Oct. 12 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Other migrants have joined the march from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua

Why Are They Coming?

Economic hardship has driven migration from Central America. Salvadorians, Guatemalans and Hondurans who work on coffee fields are being affected by leaf diseases. Coffee is the biggest employer in rural areas within these countries. The market is close to collapsing because of climate changes and low world commodity prices. This pushes farmers to sell their land and lower workers’ wages. As a result, families are impoverished and unable to buy food. Unemployment, hunger and poverty contribute to the reasons workers have migrated north.

In 2014, 29.6 percent of the Honduran population lived under the poverty line, according to the CIA. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. In 2016, there was an average of 59 murders per 100,000 people. In 2011, an average of 86.5 people were killed per every 100,000 people. 

Why a Caravan?

The preparation for the caravan started a month before it began by a former Honduran lawmaker and activist named Bartolo Fuentes. A Facebook post on Oct. 4 promoted a graphic with the phrase “Caminata del Migrante,” which translates to Migrant March. The post notified Hondurans and other interested individuals to gather in San Pedro Sula at a bus station on Oct. 12 where they would start their trek to the United States.

Fuentes claims he wanted this caravan to connect small groups of those who already had plans to leave the country. A large group migrating together discourages traffickers and gangs from targeting travelers. People were also encouraged to join the caravan, so they could avoid paying thousands of dollars to smugglers, who are often linked to the cartels, to bring them north.

What Do These Migrants Seek from the U.S.?

Migrants are making their way to the U.S. for work, family and/or asylum. Travelers must meet conditions for entering the U.S. established by the Immigration and Nationality Act, and apply for permission to enter for work, family reunification or humanitarian reasons.

Like refugees, individuals from other countries can request asylum if they can prove there is a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Individuals can seek asylum at the border or in the U.S. up to one year after entry. If they do not pass the interview, the person is ordered to be removed from the country. In fiscal year 2016, 20,455 people were granted asylum.

More than 318,000 applications for asylum are pending with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The delay for credible fear interviews can take up to four years. The backlog in immigration courts had more than 690,000 open deportation cases, with some cases pending for 718 days. 

What Has the Federal Response Been?

Responsibility for border management and control is in the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. CBP has partnered with the Department of Defense to deploy more than 5,000 troops to the Southwest border. The military’s role is limited in support of Border Patrol officers. They cannot make arrests, but they have installed temporary barricades and fences to prevent illegal crossings. 

On Nov. 9, President Donald Trump announced the administration will deny asylee status to migrants who crossed the border illegally. The president’s plan was blocked by a U.S. district court judge. The administration has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López, is negotiating with the Trump administration regarding the status of migrants seeking entrance to the U.S.

Additional Resource

Prepared by Marisol Florez, Immigrant Policy Project intern, fall 2018