Perspective from Inside the Caravan

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AZMEX I3 UPDATE2 18 DEC 2018
Note:  from the left of media center Proceso.
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The migrant caravan, disillusioned and diluted
BY RAFAEL FERNÁNDEZ DE CASTRO, DECEMBER 18, 2018 ESSAY

https://www.proceso.com.mx/564325/la-caravana-migrante-desilusionada-y-diluida

MEXICO CITY (Process) .- One month after the arrival of the migrant caravan to Tijuana (November 10), disillusionment is the general feeling among its members. Moreover, the caravan has been diluted and begins to become one of the groups of migrants that arrive in the border city, such as the Haitians (2016), the displaced people of Michoacán and Guerrero (since 2017) or the deportees who have been there. made by thousands every month for the past eight years.

The questions that floated in the air on October 12, when the caravan was organized in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and on the 19th of that month, when it crossed the Mexico-Guatemala border, were: Is it a spontaneous movement? Or is it an organized march with political motives?

The caravan is spontaneous to the extent that the socioeconomic profile and places of origin of its members are similar to the migrants who travel through our country to try an American dream.

According to the survey carried out by El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (El Colef), the members of the caravan are overwhelmingly from the triangle of Central American north: 82% Hondurans, 9.6% Guatemalans and 7.3% Salvadorans. Less than 2% are from other latitudes. 76.9% were men, 23.2% women. The thick was young. Half are between 18 and 29 years old. Of low schooling; 65% of men and women were only six years old or younger. (Survey of 1,037 migrants, November 22, Unidad Deportiva Benito Juárez, Tijuana).

As on other occasions, migrant caravans are initially organized by specific groups and leaders. On this occasion there were political activists in Honduras who wanted to send a message to President Orlando Hernández – the people are fleeing in terror of poverty and violence.

People Without Borders, a non-governmental organization based in Chicago with radical overtones for the defense of migrants’ rights, appeared once again to guide the caravan. This time, and thanks to social networks, there were hundreds of participants as often happens with caravans, but just over 7 thousand. Also it emphasizes that the own caravan in its transit had certain tints of self-government. For example, men were forbidden to drink at night and not sleep.

As he approached the border with the United States, a large group of American lawyers appeared intent on advising the migrants. Some of good heart; others with ambiguous purposes.

The conformity of Mexico

Abuses in national territory are so commonplace against migrants in transit, both criminal groups and authorities of the three levels of government, that the federal government “had no face” to enter into dialogue with the caravan.

The transition further weakened a weak government. The team of Enrique Peña Nieto did not want to act, because he felt that it was already the turn of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The officials already appointed, but not yet in office, refused to enter a particularly thorny subject. For example, the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States, Kirstjen Nielsen, visited the Tijuana-San Diego border on November 20 and no secretary of state of Peña – or the prospects of Andrés Manuel López Obrador – came to see her.

However, when Donald Trump meddled and used the convoy for electoral purposes – “it is full of terrorists and marauding savages” – and to demand that the Mexican government prevent its advance, it tied its hands to both the outgoing and incoming governments.

There was no way to do the dirty work to the White House tenant, who has no qualms about calling our migrants “rapists” and “criminals” and saying that Salvadorans “come from a shitty country.”

In the face of the federal paralysis, the states and cities through which the caravan passed did what was best for them – to help them and take care of them, but above all to dispatch them quickly to the border.

Improvisation in Tijuana

Before what was expected, the members of the caravan began arriving in Tijuana (November 10). The federal government did not even try to dissuade them so that they will not all reach that city. In those amounts, they said, they generated dangers and, surely, social rejection.

The city was not ready. The first two contingents arrived at Playas de Tijuana, a residential area, which provoked an angry criticism from the neighbors. It was also surprising that they did not reach any of the 30 migrant shelters that the city has.

The leaders decided that they wanted to remain united. The local authority improvised a small sports unit, the Benito Juárez, in the North Zone, on November 14.

The leaders decided that they wanted to remain united. The local authority improvised a small sports unit, the Benito Juárez, in the North Zone, on November 14. It only had a closed space, the gym or a basketball court. Supposedly there would only be families. In fact, there was no separation. As they arrived, the migrants chose the least bad places. There came a time when even the baseball field was filled with tents and sleeping bags. Ironically, the court adjoins the corrugated iron fence that demarcates and shows an impenetrable border.

On November 25, after a protest by a group of approximately 300 members of the caravan in the El Chaparral checkpoint, a tense and dangerous situation was generated. Dozens of migrants ran into US territory, where they would be repelled with tear gas and rubber bullets. The images of children and mothers fleeing are terrible. However, an outpouring of blood was avoided. Trump had threatened to respond with bullets.

When the unit was full at the end of November, with more than 6 thousand people, the cold and the rain began; This is Tijuana at this time of year. Fear grew that human overcrowding could cause a health epidemic that would end in tragedy. Two days before the inauguration of López Obrador (November 29), a new camp was opened, El Barretal, a spectacle center abandoned far from the border ports.

The federal authority, the National Institute of Migration (Inami) rented the property, where there was order from the beginning. They separated families, unaccompanied children, men and women. Several federal government services were established in the entrance courtyard: an obviously well-endowed IMSS medical convoy and the visible presence of multilateral agencies, such as the Red Cross and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Even to strengthen the control and security of the new camp, the Inami decided to register the members of the caravan and give them a credential with a photograph, which also had the effect of expelling vendors, smugglers and crooks who took advantage of the services. and food provided to the caravan.

The caravan, a milestone

After a month of being in Tijuana, the first contingents of the caravan, the migrant movement of about 7 thousand people, is disillusioned and diluted.

The illusion that they would enter the United States as they did in Mexico was shattered. They came across an impenetrable US border. Armored by corrugated steel fences, extremely well guarded sentry boxes and abundant military personnel, which had already prepared the terrain to avoid forced crossings.

The Colef survey shows that most of the members of the caravan have a fervent desire to enter the United States, but few had a clear idea of ​​how to do it; much less a strategy about it. Half (51% males and 48% females) reported crossing into the United States as their main expectation. For less than a quarter (19.2% males and 24.4% females) the priority was to ask for asylum. Surprisingly, just over 20% said they wanted to stay in Tijuana and 6.7% of men and 5.5% of women responded not knowing what to do.

Of the more than 6,000 people who arrived to fill the Benito Juárez Sports Unit, there are still about 2,500 in El Barretal and approximately 400 remain in the street next to the Benito Juárez unit. Many, about a thousand, have decided to return to their places of origin, either with the help of the Mexican authorities or by their own resources. The young and fittest are taking advantage of the humanitarian visas offered by the government of Mexico and are working or looking for a job in Tijuana, where the construction industry is very dynamic. Those who have family in the United States and can access resources will try the way of coyotes and people smugglers. The more will wait to intern through the asylum resource; that is, they will wait in line until after a few months they go to the interview with the US authority. Most will be rejected.

When it is diluted, the caravan is normalizing and becoming another movement of migrants arriving in Tijuana. That is, it will behave like other contingents: some manage to cross; others stay; some more are returned.

However, the caravan of Hondurans will mark a before and after, as it opened the veil and exposed the intense causes of expulsion from the North Central American triangle: poverty and violence. It also showed that our country is, at least, negligent in the face of migration flows in transit.

The new government of López Obrador is forced to face migrants who transit through our country.

The idea of ​​a massive development plan for the triangle of northern Central America and southern Mexico is excellent. But in the short term, and to make the plan viable, the López Obrador government has to stop playing a policy that oscillates between ostrich and police – many are allowed to pass and others are deported.

The passage of the caravan showed the need for coordination between the three levels of government; to make the protection of the rights of migrants a priority, and, finally, to bet on a regional vision that involves governments and civil society of the intense migration corridor that constitute Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and the United States.

* Director of the Center for Mexico-United States Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the founder of the Department of International Studies of ITAM and was director of the magazine Foreign Affairs Latin America.

This essay was published on December 16, 2018 in the 2198 edition of Proceso magazine.

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