Recently, more than 4,000 queues are crossing Central America. They are called caravans. At first, they started to go North with 150 people. However, the number of participants has grown, attracting global attention. These are people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It has been almost a month since they began the harsh journey, leaving their hometowns and making a living on streets. Despite control from the other nations, why do they continue to move North? Let's find out what happen to them, following their footsteps.
Where Are They from?
Caravans from Northern Triangle of Central America
Caravan is an annual event called Viacruis del Migrante (which means Migrants' Way of the Cross). In 2017 and 2018, the event took place in three different countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. People from these countries marched to the border of Mexico and the U.S., and then they went on their way when each person arrived at the destination. As the path of their march shows, Caravan's march began to be recognized as a symbolic event that spoke out on issues of immigration. In the past, Pueblo Sin Frontera officially led the caravans. However, as the constant threats of gangs, political insecurity and poverty had continued and even placed their lives in danger, people from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador's (which is referred as the North Triangle of Central America's), decided to head to the North, marking the beginning of the migrants’ history. The caravans that started in October are called the ‘October Caravans’ to distinguish them from the Caravans that take place annually. Most of the Caravans are from Honduras, and the others are from El Salvador and Guatemala.
Where Are They Heading?
The caravans that set a goal of reaching the Mexican-American border began their march on October 12 in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. At first, it numbered 160 migrants, but the participants grew to 500 as the march went through Honduras. As the march began to grow in size, Vice President Mike Pence of the United States even told presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to persuade citizens to stay in their homes. Orlando Hernadez, a president of Honduras even said ‘Return home and do not let yourselves be used for political purposes.'. In addition, there were attempts to block the caravans. When the Caravans passed by Chiquimula, a city in Guatemala, Fuentes, a former member of Honduras in the march was arrested and deported for violating immigration laws. Not only Fuentes but also Hondurans who were passing through the area via bus were either arrested by police or confiscated documents for immigration or refugee, forcing them to move on foot. Despite these worst conditions, 2,000 migrants crossed the Suchiate River, the border between Mexico and Guatemala and finally entered Tapachula, a city of Mexico, on October 20. The caravans, which later joined with the arrival of the second caravan, also called on the Mexican government to provide a dignified and safe public transportation from Santiago Nitepec to Mexico City. They are still moving forward to the Mexican-American border, which is their final destination.
Why Do They Keep Heading to North?
Honduras, a hometown of a large number of migrants who participated in the caravan, is notorious for its poor security. Honduras does not have enough resources to enforce the law, so there is no government control over crime. In addition, even punishment for serious crimes such as murder is not being properly implemented, which has made the national security so serious. As a result, according to World Bank’s statistics in 2018, the murder rate in Honduras is 56.52 deaths per 100,000 people. Likewise, the murder rate of El Salvador—82.84 deaths per 100,000 people—is rampant. These countries are overwhelmingly considered homicidal. These figures show how poor the current security is in these three countries.
However, the problem is not just one of national security. According to the World Bank, Honduras' economic growth rate averaged 7 percent a year, ranking first in Latin America, while Human Development Index (HDI) ranked 130th among 188 countries. HDI evaluates inequality levels in society as well as basic standard of living, so it indicates the quality of life. Honduras recorded 19.6% in economic inequality, and 24.4% in educational inequality. Unemployment in Honduras is also at a critical level. The 27.9 percent of unemployment rate in Honduras illustrates the poor economic conditions in Honduras.
As we can see from the statistics above, the people of Honduras are not only threatened by unstable security but also by life-threatening poverty. El Salvador and Guatemala have no difference, either. For these reasons, in fleeing from poverty and threats at home, the caravan marchers ultimately aims to seek daily peace on new land. To this end, many immigrants in the caravan want to cross the Mexican border, arrive in a good environment and apply for immigration or asylum in the United States.
Barriers that They Currently Faced
Response from Trump
As the Caravans grew bigger and bigger after Vice President Pence's remarks on October 20, Trump, the president of the U.S., said on October 22 that he would cut the aid to three Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Also, as the caravans began receiving foreign media attention in earnest and confirmed their will to reach their final destination, Trump responded very negatively to them, referring to them as either an intruder or a potential terrorist. Furthermore, Trump decided to send 5,200 troops to the Southwestern border of the United States on October 29 to prevent the Caravan from entering the U.S.
Response from Politician in U.S. Congress
Politicians have showed a very different response from party to party surrounding the Caravan. Members of the ruling Republican Party in the U.S. have portrayed the caravan as an "invading Horde" and "a full-scale of invasion by a hostile force." The oppositionary Democratic Party, on the other hand, did not show any response, trying to divert the public’s attention from caravans to health insurance, which was Trump's biggest weakness and a major issue in the mid-term election.
Response from Mexico
Mexican President Enrique Pechula Nieto announced the program "Estás en Tu Casa" ("You are at home”) when the Caravan entered Ariraga, Chiapas, Mexico. The program aims to accept refugee applications from the people who meet specific standards set by the Mexican government, in the condition of settling in Chiapas or Oaxaca next to them, and provide temporary labor permit visas, medical benefits and settlement costs and educational benefits for children. On the other hand, the Mexican government has shown that it wants to stop additional caravans crossing the Suchiate River illegally by mobilizing helicopters and police. Mexico's response can be interpreted as the consideration between avoiding conflict with the President Trump and protecting the human rights.
What Will Happen to Caravans?
Interpretation of Response from Trump
The New York Times said in an article entitled "What Is the Migrant Caravan and How Does Trump Care?" that Trump tried to gather his supporters by issuing warnings about Caravans, a week ahead of the mid-term elections. The Washington Post also analyzed how Trump wants to create a strong enemy by defining the Caravans as intruders and enemies, thereby stressing the Democratic Party's responsibility for failing to revise the immigration law. Trump also frequently wrote about the Caravan on Twitter and claims that Democrats are leading the caravans. His comments on Twitter would suggest he is active using the Caravan issue as his campaign strategy ahead of the midterm elections. Meanwhile, Rep. Eliot Angel, who is Democratic Party and a member of The House Committee on Foreign Affair dismissed Trump's remarks on cutting the foreign aid budget as saying, "There is no possibility of realization due to the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act."
What Will be an End of Caravans?
In the U.S., the US Refugee Admission Program (USRAP) has supported refugees since the Refugee Act in 1980. With USRAP, the U.S. government have accepted refugees within a refugee cap. Due to this effort, the number of accepted refugees peaked high in 2016 (which was 84,995), according to US Refugee Processing Center. After 2016, however, the U.S. has continued to lower the refugee ceiling, declining the refugee cap to 45,000. They also declared a plan for lowering it at 30,000 in 2019 on September 17th. Mexico also said only immigrants who have received official visas or documents would be allowed in and other asylum seekers should wait up to 45 days for detention centers. It would make it hard for them to enter in U.S. From this point of view, it would be not easy for them to achieve their final goals, which is to make a new life in the U.S.
Now the Caravans are continuing their walks to the North. They began their march to escape the poor conditions of their countries, but the journey to the American border is also painful. Currently, they sleep on the roads without any accommodation, and they are marching solely on their feet, regardless of their age. While it may be desirable to accept them on a humanitarian basis, it is also true that the U.S. cannot accept them all out of consideration of the costs of accepting them as members of the American people and allowing them to settle down in society. It is a dilemma that not only Caravan but also the global societies have faced regarding refugee problems. Will Christmas be peaceful for them? Let us hope the day when they celebrate a normal and peaceful Christmas like others will come soon.< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >