What happened with the caravans?

The Migration Policy Institute is one of the best sources of information about immigration in the United States. Julius Hattem, editor of MPI’s newsletter, wrote on October 16 about caravans from Central America. I have included below his commentary in full.

Two years ago this week, about 160 people set off from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, headed towards Mexico and, for many, eventually the United States. In following weeks their numbers would swell to form a caravan of about 7,000 people that moved into Guatemala and across the Mexican border, traveling in a group for safety and as a political signal. In the United States, the migrants became a rallying cry for President Donald Trump ahead of midterm elections that would see his Republican Party expand its Senate majority.

In recent weeks, another migrant caravan left from Honduras heading north, but this one did not get very far. More than 3,700 Hondurans were turned back in Guatemala, where hundreds of police and military officials set up roadblocks and where, previously U.S. border agents may controversially have been involved in on-the-ground operations. Mexico had similarly deployed a heavy presence along its southern border to block passage.

The episode underscores changing migration dynamics in the Americas and around the world.

For one, it is testament to how the COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally altering human movement. Guatemalan and Mexican government leaders cited the health crisis as the reason they halted the migrants’ path, although human-rights groups claimed the pandemic was being used as a pretext. Meanwhile, some migrants said that the poverty, violence, and corruption that prompted their flight had only gotten worse during the outbreak.

The caravan’s fate was also a sign of the changing posture by the Guatemalan and Mexican governments, which appear to have coordinated their response. Guatemala had previously done little to stop migrants’ passage, but this time President Alejandro Giammattei declared the travelers could “put us at serious risk” and suspended some constitutional rights to detain them. Mexico, meanwhile, has increasingly taken a tougher posture towards Central American migrants, partly in response to threatened U.S. tariffs.

Finally, the caravan highlighted how immigration has, oddly, faded from the limelight of U.S. politics. Trump built his 2016 campaign around restricting immigration, has taken more than 400 immigration-related executive actions, and can exploit a deep partisan divide on the issue. But with less than a month until the election, the president was oddly quiet about the new caravan. In fact, the politician who connected it to U.S. politics was Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Migration developments can be fluid, as the recent caravan demonstrated. The flows evolve in response to policy, politics, and broader circumstances, all of which are constantly changing.

Best regards,
Julian Hattem
Editor, Migration Information Source


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