On Friday, a group of Hondurans left the city of San Pedro Sula, with the explicitly stated goal of reaching the United States. By this week, the caravan had reportedly swelled to more than 1,000 people. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with thousands of its citizens forced to flee rampant gang and political violence every year. Many of the immigrants undoubtedly plan to apply for asylum when they reach the U.S. border, which is legal. This does not matter to Donald Trump.
On Tuesday night, Trump tweeted threats at the Honduran government, other Central American countries, and the immigrants themselves, which was quickly backed up by other members of his administration hell-bent on stopping the caravan before it reaches the border.
To reiterate: applying for asylum is legal. It is a legal means of immigrating, and people around the world have been doing it for decades to flee violence or repression. You show up at a border and you immediately ask for asylum. This should not be a difficult process. Under the Trump administration, it has become a sadistic, extremely complicated process.
Trump has consistently implied that asylum seekers are liars, and his latest step in dissuading this legal form of immigration puts immigrants and the governments of the countries they come from and pass through in an impossible position. Large groups of immigrants have used caravans because there is safety in numbers, and it is much easier for many governments to let them pass than try to stop them outright. This situation came to a head in Guatemala this weekend, as Buzzfeed News reported:
In a statement on Sunday, the Guatemalan government denounced the caravan and said it would stop the group, citing national security.
“Guatemala does not promote or endorse irregular migration in any forms, and therefore rejects movements organized for unlawful purposes which distort or use human rights, like migration, for their own end,” the statement said.
But in the end, the caravan crossed into Guatemala. The trip to Tapachula on the Mexican border was expected to take several days.
Guatemala couldn’t stop the people in the caravan because they are allowed to pass through by law.
As Trump increases pressure for police forces south of the border to stop them anyway, more people are likely to turn back. It also means more people are going to suffer. There have already been reports of members of the caravan passing out from thirst or exhaustion during standoffs with the police, according to BuzzFeed. When they eventually get to the border, they’ll be confronted with the complicated process of entering the country legally, or risking deportation or lengthy detainment by crossing the border outside of an official port of entry.
To make matters worse, Customs and Border Patrol agents have reportedly physically stopped asylum seekers from entering the country legally at those official ports, putting them in a Catch-22 situation where legal entry is purposely made difficult, while illegal entry would void their claim of asylum.
These immigrants know that large, public, and outspoken caravans are their best shot at a better life. And the Trump administration is willing to do almost anything to keep them from it.