As part of Holy Week, over a thousand Central American illegal aliens set out to complete a "Stations of the Cross", traversing through Mexico, to reach the United States' southern border. Upon arrival, they hope to make asylum claims.
The caravan, marching under the slogan "Migrantes en la lucha" ("Migrants in the Fight"), was announced about a month ago by the group Pueblo Sin Fronteras. The organization asked for donations on its Facebook page and encouraged people to send them a message if they were interested in volunteering. The organization's mission statement reads as follows, ''Our mission is to provide shelter and safety to migrants and refugees in transit, accompany them in their journey, and together demand respect for our human rights."
As early as March 18, participants gathered in Tapachula, on Mexico's southern border (the point of departure). Organizers shared a video on their Facebook page which showed the migrants playing ice-breaker games. According to the post, the organization also conducted some introductory workshops.
Prior to their departure, a member of the caravan shared about his prior attempt to request asylum in the United States. The man noted he was held at a detention center for a year and half and subsequently deported. He asked the group members to carefully consider their decision to request asylum, emphasizing that it is "not easy" and it is not just a matter of turning oneself in and saying this or the other.
Additionally, the group practiced security protocols, including formations which called for the men of the group to form a wall around the women and children. Moreover, the Central Americans made their way to Mexico's Commission for Refugee Assistance and made calls for better compliance with international and national laws, faster processing of asylum applications, and an increase in acceptance rates.
Five days ago, the caravan set out from Tapachula and began its trek northward. The group chanted "We are migrants. We are not criminals. We are workers." (About 80 percent of the group members are Hondurans.) As they've continued to make their way to the U.S., Mexican immigration authorities have allowed the migrants to move with relative ease. On Monday Pueblo Sin Fronteras posted a video with the caption, "The Refugee Caravan knocking down borders yesterday in Huehuetan! Immigration agents abandoned the post when they saw us coming. The people celebrate this first small victory!"
Along the way, the caravan has also received support and supplies from local communities. Reports indicate that the group, up to this point, has chosen to not climb on top of "La Bestia", a train used by illegal migrants to expedite their trek to the U.S. However, it hopes to utilize the train later in the trek. (BuzzFeed reports that members of the caravan have practiced by climbing the ladders of parked train cars.) In 2014, as part of the "Southern Border Plan" (an initiative to curb illegal immigration), the Mexican government implemented measures to keep people off the train.
According to the director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, from April 5 to April 9, a series of workshops will be hosted in Puebla, Mexico, by U.S. and Mexican lawyers. The workshops will provide legal guidance on the issue of asylum or refuge in Mexico and United States.
In January President Trump issued three executive orders addressing various immigration issues, including border control. These were followed by policy memoranda from Department of Homeland Security, which was then headed by John Kelly (now White House chief of staff). One of the points addressed was President Obama's "catch -and-release'' policy at the border. Catch-and-release allowed non-Mexican illegal aliens who crossed the border to be let go with a notice to appear for an immigration court hearing years later, which was generally ignored. Now, under the policies of the Trump administration, asylum claims made by border crossers are reviewed promptly by asylum officers and immigration judges that have been deployed to the border areas. The administration also issued new guidance to asylum officers instructing that asylum cases must be adjudicated strictly according to the law, and not under the loose interpretations of asylum qualifications used in years prior. After the implementation of these policies, the number of illegal alien arrivals drastically declined. (However, these numbers have started to rise again).
Once the caravan arrives at the U.S. border, it will be critical for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to lean on the new directives provided by the Trump administration. It will be an opportunity to reiterate the message that the United States is serious about border enforcement. Otherwise, the message sent to prospective migrants would be that such caravans are a promising option for gaining access to the United States.