A “caravan” of migrants, or Viacrucis del Migrante (Migrant Way of the Cross), has gained notoriety in the news this past week, as around 150 of the original group of over 1,000 reached the U.S. border in hopes of gaining asylum in the United States. In response to the news, President Donald Trump ridiculed them in a series of tweets and swore to prevent them from crossing the southern U.S. border.
While the U.S. president and many of his supporters have condemned the caravan members as criminals and potential illegal immigrants, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in a statement last week called the caravan “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system,” the reality is that the individuals who comprise the caravan are seeking to legally enter the U.S. as refugees, and their decision to travel in a caravan is less political than it is practical. The journey from their homes in Central America to Northern Mexico is extremely dangerous, and there is safety in numbers. The asylum-seekers in question are primarily from Honduras and El Salvador, two of the world’s most violent countries according to the Small Arms Survey.
Honduras has been plagued by an epidemic of gang violence for decades, and, according to Human Rights Watch, hosts one of the highest murder rates in the world. Conditions have also worsened since December 2017, when protests against the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez were met with violent backlash from state security forces. In March 2018, the U.N. estimated that at least 22 people died as a result of the violence. The situation in Honduras is also particularly dangerous for LGBTQ individuals, who are actively persecuted by the government.
Conditions in El Salvador are just as poor, and the U.S. State Department issued a Level 3 travel advisory warning on January 10, 2018, discouraging American citizens from visiting the country due to high crime rates. International Crisis Group describes the country as being trapped in a “deadlock” between violent gangs and a notoriously repressive and corrupt government.
In light of the harsh conditions in their home countries, asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador have been afforded residency rights in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) since 2001. However, TPS was revoked for El Salvador in early 2018 and will expire in September 2019.
TPS for Honduran nationals is up for renewal in July 2018, but it is predicted that the Trump administration will follow their pattern of immigration restrictions and revoke protected status for Honduran residents of the U.S. as well. This development does not bode well for the members of the caravan seeking U.S. residence themselves.
As of Friday, the group that organized the caravan, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, has reported that 158 caravan members have been allowed to enter through the U.S. border. The rest wait at the border to plead their cases for asylum, sleeping in makeshift tents and receiving aid from humanitarian workers. While many will be granted asylum in Mexico, it is ultimately safer for them in the United States.
The plight of these migrants reveals the grave human rights implications of U.S. interference in Central America Immigration, and the desperate need to overhaul immigration policies in order to provide legal certainty for asylum seekers.