The Current

Trump's tweets stall Central American migrant caravan amidst calls for U.S. asylum process reform

A migrant caravan heading across Mexico to the U.S. has stalled after invoking Donald Trump's fury, but experts say this is just one example of a recurring issue that the U.S. must face in the coming years.

Former Honduran congresswoman among 1,000 migrants in stalled caravan that was headed for U.S. border

A migrant caravan that was crossing Mexico in the direction of the U.S. has stalled in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State. Hundreds of people are camping out overnight in parks and public squares. (AFP/Getty Images)

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A caravan of more than 1,000 migrants appears to have been stopped in its tracks as it crossed Mexico towards the U.S. border, after drawing the fury of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Caravans like this move through Mexico a couple of times a year, as migrants from Central American countries band together for safety on the journey north. What makes this one different is the sheer number of migrants.

"It looks like a refugee camp on the move, and a very big one," Delphine Schrank, Reuters' chief correspondent for Mexico and Central America, told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"People looked starved or very hungry — very dirty, you could see that they had not had a chance to wash."

Schrank has been following the caravan of migrants since last Friday.

The caravan, which stalled in the Mexican town of Matias Romero on Tuesday, has one notable member: a Honduran congresswoman.

"She was in the Honduran National Congress for four years, and served until January 2018," Schrank said.

"She was not paid by the government for 18 months, for — as she says — not voting the way of the ruling government. She spiralled into debt and had to leave."

Despite the unusual resume for a migrant, Schrank said the former politician's reasons for leaving match those of many people she has met on the road: dire economic circumstances and violence from criminal gangs, compounded by political unrest.

Schrank said people have been suffering from dehydration, and have been sleeping in fields or public squares.

They told her they are the ones fleeing criminals; they are not criminals themselves. While they understand getting the chance to start a new life in the U.S. will be very difficult — and many insist they want to stay in Mexico — they cannot stay in the "impossible conditions" of their own country.

She has met children who have not eaten in two days "because that family had to flee very quickly in the night, and they didn't have money to pay for the little bit food that people were selling in the park."

Mexican officials had been helping migrants move from town to town, said Schrank, but that changed after Trump's tweets over the weekend.

Authorities have since been registering migrants and issuing them with travel documents.

"That gives them a 20-day passage through the country, which effectively limits the possibility that they have to keep going as a caravan together because normally that would take about a month to go through the country," Schrank said.

"It seems that they're bowing to pressure from Donald Trump or having to make some kind of statement or action that they're breaking up the caravan."

Mexican police check the documents of migrants stranded in Matias Romero, as part of efforts to disperse the caravan. (AFP/Getty Images)

A border wall won't fix this problem

Despite tweets to the contrary, the number of undocumented migrants in the U.S. hasn't significantly changed in the last 10 years, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute.

"There actually has not been an increase in the number of people coming to the U.S. illegally," he said. "Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally is at about a 50-year low."

Selee suspects that Trump is playing to his voter base, which is worried about immigration and impatient for measures he promised during his campaign.

"He had a budget negotiation with Congress a couple of weeks ago and he did not get money for a border wall or for significantly increased enforcement."

Prototypes for the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. There are fears that it would take years to build, and that it won't be an effective solution to border security. (AFP/Getty Images)

But Selee warns those measures may not be effective solutions.

"A border wall will take 10 years to be built, so that probably won't deal with it in the short-term and may or may not ever be effective."

Instead, Selee says the U.S. should speed up how it resolves asylum claims.

"Anyone who applies for asylum is entitled to a hearing in an immigration court and that is taking sometimes a year-and-a-half or two years," he said.

The lengthy process encourages people to cross illegally, he said, as they know they will at least get some time in the U.S. — time they can spend away from dangerous circumstances in their home countries.

"This is not a national security crisis, it's a humanitarian crisis," said Selee.

"You want to balance out the needs of people who are leaving countries — that are very fragile, that have high levels of violence — with the laws of the United States ... and somewhere in between you want to find a just way of dealing with this."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Geoff Turner.

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