New caravan gathers for a journey north
By SARAH KINOSIAN AND KEVIN SIEFF | The Washington Post | Published: January 11, 2019
MEXICO CITY — Another migrant caravan is forming in Honduras, with plans to set out next week on a journey that will once again test the immigration policies of Mexico and the United States.
In much the way last year's Central American caravan originated, a flier is circulating on Honduran social media. "We're looking for refuge," it says. "In Honduras, we are being killed." It advertises a 5 a.m. departure Jan. 15 from the northern city of San Pedro Sula.
The Mexican government says it is preparing for the group's arrival.
"We have information that a new caravan is forming to enter our country in mid-January," Olga Sánchez Cordero, the interior minister, said at a news conference Monday. "We are already taking the necessary steps to ensure the caravan enters in a safe and orderly way."
When the previous caravan reached Mexico in October, Mexican authorities closed one of the main border crossings but allowed thousands of migrants to swim across the river separating the country from Guatemala. The migrants then continued north through Mexico, most of them traveling without documents.
This time, Sánchez Cordero said, the government will place guards at 370 illegal crossing points and the border will be "controlled to prevent the entry of undocumented people." But she suggested that members of the caravan could be allowed into the country legally if they apply for visas.
"We don't know how many people this will be, but it's a lot," said Walter Coello, a taxi driver from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, who helped organize the last caravan and is playing a similar role once again. "With this caravan, the goal is to give them a chance to work and have a better life, be it in Mexico or the United States."
Last year's group, with about 7,000 people, was dwarfed by the roughly 400,000 people who were apprehended at the U.S. border in 2018, as well as the more than 100,000 who applied for asylum in that period. But it became a major focus for President Donald Trump, who attempted to use the specter of an invading caravan to rally his supporters.
On Thursday, Trump deployed similar rhetoric about the new group.
"There is another major caravan forming right now in Honduras, and so far we're trying to break it up, and so far it's bigger than anything we've ever seen, and a drone isn't going to stop it, and a sensor isn't going to stop it, but you know what's going to stop it in its tracks?" he said. "A nice, powerful wall."
For Central Americans, who typically depend on expensive and unreliable smugglers to travel to the United States, caravans offer a cheaper, safer way to migrate. So, despite Trump's opposition, experts say it is likely that they will continue to form.
"The caravans are an opening for people," said Karen Valladares, executive director of the National Forum for Migration in Honduras. "Every day, people leave, but this way they feel more secure. There is more solidarity in going with groups. They don't have the fear that they are going to be the victims of organized crime."
Thousands of members of the previous caravan are still waiting in Tijuana to begin their asylum applications. A U.S. policy shift in November requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are being processed has not yet been implemented, but it could delay their entrance into the United States even further.
Yet in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where pockets of extreme violence persist and economic opportunities are still limited in many places, there is a widespread perception that the earlier group succeeded.
"Many people see the last caravan as a success in that people were able to travel safely, and they were well taken care of," Valladares said.
Glen Muños, 18, from the Honduran city of Choloma, plans to travel with the next group this month.
"It's not just employment or that Honduras is dangerous," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm young, and I want to know another place."
Muños's brother, 36, traveled with last year's caravan but split off from it in northern Mexico and crossed the border illegally in Texas.
"Honduras is dangerous and I'm not having him stay there. I want him next to me working, not there," he said of his younger brother in a text message. He spoke on the condition of anonymity now that he is living illegally in the United States.
Karla Riviera is also considering traveling with the new caravan. She traveled with the last one from Honduras to the Guatemala-Mexico border. But in southern Mexico, immigration officials took her to a makeshift detention center, she said, first claiming they were offering her shelter and later returning her by plane to Honduras.
"They treated us like criminals. They tricked us, jailed us and deported us," she said, speaking by phone.
Back in Honduras, she said she's still receiving rape and death threats - from the father of her niece, whom she reported for sexually abusing the child, from "macho men" who insult her because she's gay, and from the father of her partner's children.
"Right now, I don't leave my house much. I have to hide. I'm still worried about my life," she said.
She saw news about the coming caravan on WhatsApp and asked her partner whether she was interested in going.
"We are talking it out," she said. "I guess my alternative is to live and hide."