A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español.
For over a decade now, around the time of Holy Week celebrations in early spring, a migrant caravan has set off on its journey north from Central America. Hundreds of people from across the region make their way through Mexico, fleeing their countries of origin in a via crucis, or "Way of the Cross" walk analogized to the passion of the Christ. This year, the leader of the caravan was named Irineo Mújica, a human rights advocate for migrants and director of the organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders).
But it wasn't the caravan's leadership that made the 2018 journey remarkable. Instead, rather than roughly 400 participants, more than 1,500 people joined, according to Pueblos Sin Fronteras, with the majority hailing from Honduras.
Although their destination was said to be the town of Caborca, Sonora, in northern Mexico, where the travelers might hold a summit to meet with other migrant communities who’ve elected to stay on the southern side of the US-Mexico border, Donald Trump decided to get involved. The US president blasted off a series of tweets on Easter Sunday that continued through the morning of Tuesday, April 3, assuring the migrants there would be no agreement to resolve the fate of more than 700,000 people left in limbo after he canceled DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in September 2017. (It was apparently lost on Trump that new arrivals from Central America would never have been eligible for that program in the first place.)
“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!” he wrote on his favorite social media platform on April 3.
The outbursts prompted a response from Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who said via video: “If you want to arrive at agreements with Mexico, we are ready. As we’ve demonstrated up to now, we have always been available to dialogue with seriousness, in good faith, and in a constructive spirit.” In the video, the president added that if Trump’s declarations about immigration were related to problems with domestic US politics, they should be solved in that country.
For his part, Mújica announced that the caravan would disband in Mexico City, where they arrived in waves between April 6 and April 9, after departing from Tapachula, Chiapas, a town near the southern border of Mexico, on March 25. Now the plan is to request humanitarian asylum in Mexico, while a group of approximately 500 migrants move to continue the journey until they arrive in Tijuana, independent of the larger caravan. Some of them intend to cross the border into the US, although doing so isn’t (and has never been) the official, organized goal of Pueblos Sin Fronteras or the caravan itself, according to the group.
“The caravan will disband in Mexico City and it’s not because we’re afraid of Trump, but because we’re going to request—according to international law—that refugee treaties be upheld,” Mújica said during an April 4 interview with various Mexican media outlets, including VICE en Español. “Many Hondurans who accompany us today can no longer return [to their country of origin]—there’s no life for them there. [Trump] only wants to create chaos, to treat us as scapegoats; he wants to eradicate, exterminate, and finish us."
In response to a question from a member of the Mexican press who was traveling with the caravan, an agent from the National Institute of Migration stated that the Mexican authorities have delivered 917 temporary migrant permits to the members of the caravan; 635 of them are exit visas that allow their holders a 30-day period to leave the country via any of its borders. The remainder of the permits authorize the holder to seek a humanitarian visa in Mexico.
According to statistics from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, which is responsible for monitoring violence (it’s regarded by experts as the most credible entity on the matter), Honduras is the most violence-riddled country in Latin America, and has been for years. In 2014, San Pedro Sula—the administrative capital of Honduras—recorded a rate of 142 homicides (specifically related to organized crime) per every 100,000 residents. According to the university, there were 5,150 homicides in Honduras in 2016 alone—a similar statistic to 2015, in which there was an annual total of 5,148 deaths, meaning 59 murders for every 100,000 residents. The situation in Honduras is one that makes daily life in the country extremely difficult.
But that's not the only country from which migrants joined the procession. VICE Mexico talked with Jhony, a 16 year old from El Salvador who decided to join the caravan with one of his friends who was fleeing MS-13, the sprawling gang organization that dominates El Salvador and systematically kills young people who won’t join their ranks, including in the United States. It’s Jhony’s second time entering Mexican territory—he first came to the country two years earlier, but he was deported, he said.
“We’re in the march of migrants, looking for a better future for our family because our families run risks in our countries of origin,” Jhony told VICE. “That’s why we came to see how things could turn out in the north. Luckily, Mexico has always helped us. Here, we’re always headed forward.”
We also spoke with Catherine, a 30-year-old mother who left her two children in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where she worked in a clothing store. When asked why she decided to join the caravan alone, she said, “We came fleeing gangs, and because of lack of economic opportunity. There’s not much work [back in Honduras]. The police are against the people. We need a good future, and I left my two kids and my father [in search of that]. What we want more than anything is for the Mexican people to support us. We have the right to walk freely because we need help. We didn’t leave our country because we want to—we’re afraid to go back.”
Bryan, a 17-year-old man from Honduras, said that he was running from death. Both he and his mother have received permits from the Mexican government to remain in the country legally for 30 days. “I believe that [in the United States], I’ll find peace, even though Mr. Trump doesn’t want us there,” he said. “He thinks we’re bad, but we just want to better our lives because in our country, Honduras, it’s impossible to live… My brother was killed when I was 10 years old. My life had been really hard, and I don’t want to end up like him.”
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