A wave. A swarm. A stampede. These are the words used by members of the Trump administration to describe the caravan of Central American refugees traveling through Mexico to the U.S. While dog whistle politics have targeted the caravan carrying migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala north and have been used to justify the deployment of the National Guard to the U.S. southern border, a delegation of local allies and immigrant rights groups quickly organized to raise awareness and march in solidarity.
On Sunday, people who joined the March Without Borders, a 130-mile trek over the course of seven days, met at the Central American caravan at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, Calif., welcoming refugees.
Despite the hysteria created by media and members of government, this is not the first caravan of its kind. According to Jacqueline Arellano, a member of Border Angels, her group helps mobilize caravans annually in conjunction with other nonprofits, such as Pueblos sin Fronteras, the organization that accompanied the caravan from Tapachulas, Chiapas.
(Photo Credit: Con Las Comadres | Members of the caravan and press in Playas de Tijuana look toward the March Without Borders delegation on the other side of the U.S. border fence.)
“The majority of people coming are fleeing persecution based on actual violence they are subjected to in their home country. … I did not encounter a single person who was actually fleeing just for better opportunities,” Ricardo Diaz, a paralegal with Al Otro Lado, a bi-national legal organization that services deportees, migrants and refugees, told FIERCE.
He says that while this caravan was at its largest in Puebla, Mexico, with an approximate 1,500 people, most of the migrants stayed along the route and only about 300-to-400 went to Tijuana.
Diaz, along with 40 other attorneys and representatives from the Central American consulates, has been providing legal consultations to refugees who intend to seek asylum. Applicants must prove to have a valid fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group to be considered to have a strong claim for asylum.
Contrary to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments that the border is being charged by immigrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally, seeking asylum is an international human right that must be recognized at a country’s port of entry. Thus, the only party acting illegally is the United States in its refusal to process individual refugees that have showed up at its doorstep. This is one of the reasons why large caravans organize: to gain strength in numbers.
(Photo Credit: Con Las Comadres | Families line up to receive meals prepared by local groups, such as Tijuana Comida No Bombas.)
False claims, such as those made by Sessions that immigration agencies treat people extremely well — particularly children — have violent repercussions. They not only serve to mask the economic inaccessibility and white supremacy on which our legal immigration system is built, but also allow federal agencies to forgo their responsibility to the families they detain and oftentimes separate.
In a statement, Nicole Ramos, a lawyer with Al Otro Lado, demanded that the Department of Homeland Security respect the refugees’ right to asylum and stop removing children from their parents and placing them in foster care. This comes after the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed it lost track of more than 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children they had placed with U.S. sponsors.
“I have represented too many pregnant women that have lost their babies because [DHS] refuses to provide adequate medical care despite multiple requests,” Ramos said. “Pregnant women should not have to make a choice between saving their lives and losing their children.”
(Photo Credit: Con Las Comadres | Ricardo, center right, along with allies from CARECEN-LA, Pueblos Sin Fronteras and other members of the caravan, riding the bus to Enclave Caracol, a community kitchen helping feed the refugees.)
The threat of losing their children is a reality many mothers and fathers on this caravan experience. The majority of families are escaping violence, either from local gangs or the repressive regime of president Juan Orlando Hernandez, both deeply linked to the U.S.’ interventionist policies and the war on drugs.
Such is the story of Wendi Yaneri Garcia, a land protector who traveled with her two-year-old son Oscar for more than a month to ask for refuge after experiencing state violence in retaliation for her advocacy. The decision to uproot her life, leaving behind five children she hopes to reunite with after gaining asylum, came after police harassed her on behalf of Inglesa, the company trying to build a hydroelectric dam in her hometown of Atlántida, Honduras. Carrying Oscar on her shoulders and dragging her only luggage, filled with one change of clothes, diapers and toys for her baby, Garcia says protecting indigenous land in Honduras is important but also deadly. The case of slain environmental activist Berta Caceres gives credence to her fear.
(Photo Credit: Con Las Comadres | A group of trans women help their companera get ready to present herself to immigration officers.)
The caravans didn’t just transport families, however. Many trans Central American women were also on board. Among them: 26-year-old Alessandra Lopez, whose constant experience with discrimination and bullying on the streets of her hometown led her to joining the caravan.
According to Lopez, trans women who travel through Mexico are forced to perform sex work while hitchhiking and are often raped along the way. Leaving behind a history of family abandonment and machista culture, she has hopes for her future.
“If I get asylum, I will start a new life, leave all my past behind, to move forward and improve my life, continue my studies and always support my trans and LGBT community,” she told FIERCE.
(Photo Credit: Con Las Comadres | Activists chant in front of the U.S. border fence in solidarity with the Central American caravan.)
Though refugees have had to overcome traumas and now face uncertainty in the U.S., there is a strong sense of hope and solidarity with the allies who have aided them throughout their journey.
As seen during other international migrant crisis, it is often local and transnational community groups who step in to support and hold governments accountable. Claudia Treminio, one of the members of Movimiento Cosecha that walked from Los Angeles to meet the caravan, explains that while she felt physical and emotional exhaustion, it was nothing in comparison to the distance her paisanos traveled.
As someone who came to the U.S. from El Salvador as an unaccompanied minor in 2000, Treminio empathizes with their struggle and feels a responsibility to humanize the caravan members.
“Even though there’s so much hate and racism in this country, there’s also a community that loves them and is fighting for them,” she told us.
As of May 2, only 89 of the approximately 300 refugees that arrived in Tijuana on Sunday have been processed by the Department of Homeland security. Organizers of the caravan have helped set up makeshift tents and blankets and vowed to continue camping outside the San Ysidro entrance until all refugees of the caravan have been processed.