Members of a U.S.-bound migrant caravan from Honduras have been detained in Guatemala and deported before they could reach Mexico. Though their journey was cut short, the formation of a new caravan reveals that – as in 2018 and 2019 – Central Americans are still fleeing violence, hunger and climate change en masse.
The crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border also persists despite the coronavirus drawing media attention toward other matters. The result is a continuation of dehumanizing and dangerous conditions on the border, with less public scrutiny than ever.
Under international and domestic law, the United States must offer asylum to people with a “well-founded fear” of persecution based on their political beliefs, racial or ethnic background, religion or other special characteristics that make them a target for violence. But in April 2018, the Trump administration began “metering” asylum-seekers by requiring that they get on a waiting list for their initial appointment with U.S. officials. By August 2019, 25,000 people were on the list, mostly in Tijuana. By March 2020, over 65,000 asylum-seekers had been returned to Mexico, mostly through ports of entry in Texas.
Under pressure from the Trump administration, the Mexican government acceded to this policy, giving asylum-seekers the right to wait for their interview in Mexico. But shelters could not keep up with the demand, leaving thousands on the streets or in tent camps with no plumbing or electricity. Asylum-seekers outside the shelters rarely have access to social assistance or legal counsel, and are targeted by criminals and local police for extortion, mugging, kidnapping and assault.
In March 2020 the Department of Homeland Security closed the waiting lists for asylum interviews and suspended asylum hearings. Since then, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has turned away more than 147,000 people. Most of the migrants, including non-Mexicans, are stuck in Mexico.
Yet hunger, sickness, violence and generally dangerous conditions in Central America mean many asylum-seekers will brave the obvious health risks at the U.S.-Mexico border rather than return home. And others, like the migrants in the new Honduran caravan, will continue to flee.