Largest ever migrant caravan begins walk across entire length of Mexico to U.S. border

AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

The largest-ever migrant caravan is beginning its trek to the US-Mexico border. The estimated number of migrants in the caravan ranges from about 11,000 to 15,000. Most of them are women and children. The news of the caravan comes at a particularly awkward time for the Biden administration. Biden’s Summit of the Americas is supposed to begin Monday in Los Angeles.

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As often happens with the Biden administration, details about the Summit are murky. As of the middle of last week, the leaders who will attend has not been confirmed. The caravan plans to leave Tapachula, a city on the Mexico-Guatemala border, on Monday, the same day the Summit of the Americas is set to begin. Other caravans have left from Tapachula in the past but this one is said to be the largest one ever. The migrants in the caravan aren’t just from Central America, they are from countries around the world, from as far away as Africa and India.

“This is the largest mass human migration I have seen in at least the past 10 years,” said Luís Villagrán, an organizer of the caravan and director of the non-profit Center for Human Dignification.

The largest number of migrants in the caravan come from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua – three countries whose authoritarian rulers Joe Biden has conspicuously refused to invite to the summit. But there are also Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and even citizens of India, Bangladesh, and several African countries.

Earlier this month, the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM), wrote to Villagrán, expressing sympathy for the caravan’s members and pledging to help the most vulnerable among them. The letter also acknowledges that the caravan is a result of the stunning tsunami of migration from nearly every country in the Americas to the United States in the past few years, attributing this migration to elevated rates of violence and economic instability in the continent.

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The response by the INM is a first from the Mexican government toward organizers of migrant caravans. Villagran said that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) may be trying to look like a humanitarian ahead of the Sumit of the Americas. It may not be a signal that the Mexican authorities are shifting to a more responsive mode in dealing with migrants. Villagran acknowledges, “Immigration is used as a political tool.” AMLO may be hoping to boost his image as the Summit begins.

Frustrated Mexican officials and law enforcement are reported to be turning to more violent responses to the influx of migrants. Nonetheless, the caravan continues to organize and Villagran demands that the migrants receive humanitarian visas from the Mexican government. Humanitarian visas will allow migrants to cross through checkpoints along the way in Mexico.

In Tapachula, the National Guard is routinely used to corral, detain, and teargas unruly groups of migrants in front of the city’s INM office, where people often wait for weeks or months for the humanitarian visa needed to leave the city.

On Tuesday, thousands gathered at Tapachula’s city center to write their names on a list that Villagrán would submit to INM to secure visas for the group. At one point, an altercation broke out as migrants worried others would get to the list before them, and they would be left behind.

Before they depart, Villagrán and the migrants are demanding humanitarian visas be given immediately, so the group can pass through migration checkpoints without being arrested or attacked by Mexican National Guard, as happened in April. Anyone attempting to cross through one of the checkpoints without a visa is sent back to Tapachula and forced to wait months for papers that may never come.

Over the past three months, migrants have poured into Tapachula’s parks and shelters at twice or three times the previous rate. Migrant shelters that once housed no more than 400 people are now accommodating nearly 2,000. Bathrooms overflow, food dwindles until it is just one scoop of beans, and migrants sleep in the hallways, or on spread out sweatshirts in the jungle.

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So, while leaders from Latin countries arrive in Los Angeles to discuss problems facing their countries and their relationship with each other, a massive caravan is beginning to walk the length of Mexico en route to the US border. The Biden administration originally stated that only “democratically-elected leaders” would be invited to the Summit. That would exclude Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. This caused some heads of state like AMLO to threaten a boycott. This diplomatic crisis (everything is a crisis with this administration) continues right up to the start of the Summit. As I said above, there has still not been a list of participants released. You may remember that Jill Biden was sent to smooth ruffled feathers and encourage the leadership in some of the region to attend the Summit. Let’s just say she didn’t exactly score a victory in her mission. Will Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, and Guatemala, as well as others, go ahead and attend the Summit or will they make good on their threats of a boycott?

Biden’s border crisis continues to be a magnet to people around the world. We’ll see if the largest migrant caravan makes its way to the US border. Sometimes a caravan is reported to be organizing and then nothing much happens. We’ll soon know if this is one of those times or if thousands of migrants begin to walk the length of Mexico in hopes of being allowed into the United States.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 19, 2024
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