Despite the difficulties, the migrants keep moving north
The largest-ever Migrant Caravan has entered Mexico. More than 1,000 people have applied for political asylum in this country, and about 400 have returned to Honduras. Yet the number of those walking towards the USA is growing. Why is this?
Even though the initial group has reduced, others have taken their place. I read this morning that another 1,000 Guatemalans are preparing to cross the Mexican border and catch up to the Caravan. What drives them on?
In Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the four top reasons are corrupt government, inflation, unemployment, and organized crime. We can nod our heads in agreement; these sound like compelling reasons for leaving the country. But my gut twists when I think about what this harsh reality would feel like. I have never been subjected to anything that remotely resembles what the refugees have endured.
None of my loved ones has been gunned down in the street. No vicious gang member has ever tried to recruit my husband or my son by holding a knife to their throats. Neither my daughter nor I have been raped. No one in my family has worked 10 – 14 hours for $4 USD. None of us has been punched, thrown to the ground and kicked by a police officer because we refused to pay for “protection”. We have never been threatened with death for an outstanding extortion payment.
U.S. politicians claim that Central America’s plight is not their responsibility. But the truth is: American policies have contributed to such scenarios in Mexico, Central and South America. Roosevelt frequently referred to his foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, as “the big stick” (speak softly but let the threat of heavy retaliation hang in the air)
In the early and mid 20th century, countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were in their formative modern periods and could have progressed, but the United States supported military dictators and far-right parties who in turn kept wages low for the foreign companies that had established operations there. Progressive education was discouraged, and any insubordination was met with extreme violence.
Then in 1996, U.S. authorities approved the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act,” and in the early 2000s, tens of thousands of convicted criminals were deported to Central America. Soon we saw the expansion of gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18) – this gang originally born in the U.S. – spread like virus across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Additionally, the region’s civil wars left an unknown number of young people with no family. And that, combined with extreme inequality, incarceration of suspicious-looking youth, and weak judicial and security institutions brought the bitter brew to a hard boil..
Over the past 15 years, the gangs have taken over both rural and urban areas. Across the northern part of Central America, boys from 12 years up are prime targets for recruitment. Under-age girls can also become part of the gangs, either to be used sexually or as active members.
The struggling Caravan families tell stories of this abuse and more. They get no help from the authorities – there is nowhere to turn for help – so they are forced to leave.
But all the difficulties the Migrant Caravan has endured up to this point is like an “initiation”. As they get into higher elevation and colder terrain, they will need warmer clothing and more food. Where will it come from?
I ask myself – What will happen to these people IF they reach the US border?
The Trump administration swears they won’t let them cross the border. So what is Mexico expected to do with thousands of desperate people ready to storm the ramparts? The American president has threatened to send in the army. What will the soldiers’ orders be? Will they start shooting? Use tear gas? Will they gather everyone up and detain them for due process, as the UN has insists. The families will be separated. How will they deal with still more psychological trauma?
I feel quite sure that this Central American Caravan has started a tide that cannot be stopped. All the politicians on our continent had better stop creating policies that serve their interests and those of big business. They must look at the people’s needs. They have to stop posturing and work together to find an immediate solution that can be expanded over time.
The world has changed and will change still more. Those who are able to adapt will thrive. Those who grip on to the past with their toenails, and deny what’s happening will find the world more and more hostile.
Like it or not – Trump is in the hot seat. He would be well-advised to cool down.