The Newest Caravan Won't Succeed, but Aspiring Economic Migrants Still Expect to Be Welcomed by Biden

By Todd Bensman on January 14, 2021

As the January 15 departure date draws nigh for the latest U.S.-bound Honduran caravan, the chances that its economic migrants will reach the American border in time for President Joe Biden to be in office have fallen to the vicinity of zero.

With Trump still in office and pandemic-containment border closures still in place, the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico have moved quickly to coordinate what promises to become the second forceful breakup of a caravan since the presidential election. Guatemala, for instance, proclaimed a "State of Prevention" and moved militarized police to its borders with Honduras Tuesday to block several hundred of the caravan's advance elements. To that country's north, Mexico's national guard has braced and reinforced itself should remnants of the coming breakup get through.

But no matter to Hondurans smart enough not to go this time while Trump remains in office and pandemic border closures are still intact, like 18-year-old Emerson Lopez near the city of San Pedro Sula, a launch point for this caravan and past ones. He believes a first one will get through and successfully deliver its participants inside the United States — once President Joe Biden is in office.

"We hope that it will change, that it will benefit us," Lopez told French media outlet AFP in Honduras this week regarding the departure of President Donald Trump and the inauguration of Biden on January 20.

Lopez said that he and a great many other economic migrants like him, in a zone hit hard by a hurricane last fall, will be closely watching for that first successful caravan. And then?

"If they arrive well, most of us here are going to make the decision to leave later."

A neighbor of Lopez's, 51-year-old Martha Saldivar, also told AFP how the election of Joe Biden — all the things she's heard about his take on illegal immigration — matters in her life planning choices.

"It has been heard that Biden is going to remove the wall [that Trump is building on the border] and we will have to fight to get there," she said.

As an Associated Press report noted (in its last sentence): "Migrants have been hopeful for a warmer welcome at the US border with the government of President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on January 20."

In addition to the incentivizing power of Biden's promise to "immediately" float an already drafted immigration bill proposal to the new Democrat-controlled Congress, they no doubt also have heard the new administration will likely flip on another kind of tractor beam.

The incoming administration is already considering requests that it bestow Temporary Protected Status on nearly a million Hondurans and many hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans already illegally living inside the United States on grounds that the effects of Hurricanes Iota and Eta this past fall have rendered deportations a humanitarian hardship. TPS status forestalls deportations that already have been ordered (and any that might come) and grants work permits and Social Security cards to its beneficiaries, essentially legalizing those in the U.S. and anyone who can make it in time. What illegal immigrants and their advocates like about TPS is that the legalized status lasts for decades despite the "temporary" in its name.

The caravans, of course, began coming long before Hurricanes Iota and Eta for the usual economic reasons: to earn money while living comparatively better in the United States and to send remittance money home. One motivation for this is to provide funds for massive modern houses to which they can return. Since October 2018, more than a dozen caravans have launched from Honduras, at least four of them containing up to 3,000 economic migrants, but collecting thousands more on their way to the southern border.

Thousands of "extra-continental" migrants from around the world, stuck for months behind pandemic-containment border closures far south of Honduras (and thus also never motivated by hurricanes), have been rioting in countries like Panama and Suriname for authorities to let them through. Some Cuban migrants stuck for the time being in Suriname are part of a separate caravan that formed as a direct result of the Biden election win.

Among those expecting the fruits of Biden's many campaign promises to swing wide the southern U.S. gates was El Salvadoran Cecilia Arelavo, living in California but visiting relatives in her home country, who told AFP that "with Biden, the immigration laws in the United States will change and become more humane."

In another El Salvador town, Cristian Panameno shared the sentiment.

"I think that with this new president, things will change for a migrant who arrives without papers, because with Trump, we are screwed," said the 42-year-old mechanic, who was already deported from the U.S. and will try to migrate again.

None of the aspiring migrants AFP interviewed cited government persecution or gang violence, which they commonly cite at the southern border as the basis of asylum claims.

"If I arrive in the United States, I aspire to be given a chance to work," Panameno said of a motivation that would render him ineligible for U.S. asylum.

In an opinion column for the New York Times Spanish-language edition titled "With Biden, more immigrants will come (and that's fine)", the journalist Jorge Ramos acknowledged the sea change in sentiment throughout Latin America's universe of aspiring illegal immigrants. He quoted one migrant in the eventually dispersed December 2020 caravan, Leonel Burgos, as telling Univision that Biden had spoken about "helping all immigrants".

"Let's see if that's true."