Understanding the Central American Caravans

Kalaisha Totty

Thousands of migrants fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in the tail end of October to the beginning of November.

The current Central American caravans were organized via social media by a group of Hondurans without institutional or professional interference, according to the American Anthropological Association.

These individuals are mothers, fathers, brothers, grandmothers, nieces and daughters of families looking to dodge persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries. Many of them hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. As more migrants arrive at the border, temporary shelters have been established in Tijuana and Mexicali.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that about 50 percent of the migrants are single adults; however the Guatemalan Intel Minister said “the caravan is employing tactics to push women and children to the front to act as human shields as the caravan pushes against its military forces.”

Among these children include unaccompanied minors making their trek to the U.S.

Cal State Long Beach Assistant Professor of Human Development Lauren Heidbrink has studied the increase of unaccompanied minors migrating from Central America.

“From 2010 to 2018, the number of primarily Central American and Mexican unaccompanied migrant children apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol nearly tripled (increasing from 18,168 to an anticipated 50,000 children in 2018),” said Heidbrink, author of Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State: Care and Contested Interests.

Heidbrink’s research focuses on how the U.S. immigration system affects unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, in addition to the underlying structural forces that have destabilized Central America and led to this magnitude of migration.

She pinpoints the U.S. interventions in Central American armed conflicts since the 1960s, transnational gangs, unequal free trade agreements which deepen social inequality in the region, multinational extractive industries which devastate crops and water sources, and securitized approaches to migration management, to name a few.

“The U.S. has produced the very violence that Central Americans now flee,” Heidbrink said.

The Department of Homeland Security has reported that “over 270 individuals along the caravan route have criminal histories, including known gang membership.” They have also reported “Mexico’s Interior Minister Navarrete Prida speaking on Radio Enfoque (Focus) 100.1 FM, confirmed that some criminal groups have infiltrated the caravan.” They further explained their goal to “provide protection to those individuals who qualify for asylum under our laws.” However, “individuals who want jobs or want to reunify with family members in the U.S. aren’t eligible to qualify for asylum.”

What does seeking asylum in the U.S. look like?

In order to be eligible for refugee or asylum status, an individual must prove they were a victim of past persecution or have a fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, according to All Law author Ilona Bray, J.D.

Heidbrink explained that there is no legal basis to prevent Central Americans from seeking asylum in the U.S.

On Nov. 9, 2018, the Trump Administration issued a presidential proclamation seeking to bar refugees from asylum if they cross the southern border between official ports of entry, according to Human Right First. They further explained how this baring of refugees seeking asylum is illegal because under U.S. law people present in the U.S. after crossing the border may apply for asylum.

The point of the caravans, according to the American Anthropological Association, “is to allow people to make their suffering and humanity visible. It is by joining together that they gain the safety and recognition necessary to expose human rights abuses.”

There are many roles to play during this great migration of people toward the U.S. Heidbrink explained that migrant caravans have an extensive history and will continue to be a means for people to ensure safety while migrating toward the U.S.

“The U.S.’s efforts to externalize our borders by pressing the Mexican government to respond deflects our responsibility not only to asylum seekers at our borders but also to creating the conditions which spurred their migration in the first place.”



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