MEXICO CITY – The migrant caravan began another stage to the US border on Saturday, continuing the one-day trip north from Mexico City after the Trump administration moved to limit the asylum options for non-immigrant immigrants. authorized. The group had waited in the capital for almost a week, listening to bits of information on the militarization of the border and the US mid-term elections.
The members of the caravan seemed undeterred, stating that it was not possible to return to their countries of origin. They embarked on the subway before dawn to reach the outskirts of the Mexican capital.
The most urgent question: how long would it take to travel 1,700 miles to Tijuana, on the border with California? Many swore that they would eventually enter the United States.
The new measures of the Trump administration, which were announced on Thursday, deny asylum to people entering the United States between official ports of entry. These arrivals may require a minor status known as "removal withholding" or protection under the Anti-Torture Convention. Or they temporarily prevented them from being expelled, but did not provide any path for permanent legal status.
All who enter through official entry ports will continue to be able to seek asylum and many caravan members say it is their plan.
"If God wants it, we will ask for political asylum on the border," said Lourdes Martinez, 25, from La Ceiba, a coastal town in Honduras. He said he did not foresee any problems because he would not break the law. "I'm headed for one of the bridges, not crossing the river or something."
She was convinced she had a chance to make it in the United States, along with her 4-year-old husband and daughter, because they were fleeing the forced recruitment of the MS-13 gang in their hometown. Even when US lawyers volunteers in Mexico warned that the family could be detained for more than a year during asylum procedures, it was not deterred.
ACLU and other civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit to challenge the presidential proclamation, hours before it came into force on Saturday. Trump's decree remained a concern among lawyers, who stood out from the crowd in the stadium with their orange fluorescent hats. Twenty of them walked around offering 10-minute summaries of asylum to migrants lying in the stands and in plastic tents at a sports stadium where migrants slept in Mexico City.
"People do not understand their rights as asylum seekers, or refugees, even when they have strong asylum applications," said Arturo Viscarra, a member of the US-based National Lawyers Guild. He noted that Central Americans have been crossing the US border for decades.
But now, Viscarra said, "they have incredible waiting times at ports of entry" – a situation that is bound to worsen when the caravan reaches the border. Already, forced expectations at official crossings, sometimes weeks, have led people to cross illegally. Viscarra reported having documented cases in the border town of Reynosa where migrants with asylum applications were pushed back to bridges, then crossed between ports of entry, only to seek asylum from US authorities after being detained.
This will be impossible according to the new rules, at least for the next 90 days.
Some members of the caravan did not want to hear any news so discouraging. Sofia Sanchez, 40, from Cofradía, in Honduras, who was traveling with her grandchildren, said she was more focused on the caravan than on hypothetical problems.
"They lower morale by telling us that families could be separated," said Sanchez. "I believe God will help us and we want to reach the other side of the border".
Trump's move applies to anyone crossing the border without documents, but it has been seen as a preventive step against the caravan, which has provoked the president's anger since he left Honduras in mid-October. Even a previous caravan in the spring went to Tijuana, where at last 401 people sought asylum. But the administration reported at the time that he had also arrested alleged caravan members who crossed illegally.
Rodrigo Abeja, a member of the collective activist Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who helped coordinate the caravan, said that single men looking for work were more likely to try to cross the ports of entry, while others – whole families, women with children unaccompanied minors or LGBTQ migrants – they are more likely to apply for asylum.
Although many were uncertain about what decision they would take at the border, he said, they were no longer willing to sit down and argue in the sports stadium in Mexico City.
"People no longer have any reason to wait here," he said. "Many people want to reach the border, where they can then wait and get ready, but with the help of their family networks".
Migrants who receive financial support from relatives in the United States, at times, do not cross immediately, but instead save money to pay a smuggler or prepare evidence for their asylum applications. Others decide to stay in the northern cities of Mexico.
On Thursday the demonstrators held a late-night vote to determine their final destination. Many gathered around a map provided by the Red Cross that showed the traditional routes to the border. A couple of them stretched out to Texas, to cities like Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa, while another headed for Tijuana. The crowd chose Tijuana, although it was farther than any other city with an entry port, because it was considered safer and the route there allowed them to avoid the territory dominated by cartels.
Migrants traced the train lines on the map with their fingers, trying to measure distances. In the morning, their bags would be packed. Almost 1,000 members of the group came out Friday.
The estimate of another 4,000 members of the group eventually chose to wait until Saturday, when they insisted on the request that the UN provide them with buses, a request that was not met. They feared that the weeks of walking would be particularly difficult for the children, who had become increasingly ill and exhausted along the way.
According to the Mexican authorities, almost 2,700 people have the caravan received temporary permits while being tried for refugee status in Mexico. In each of the cities the group had already stopped, small numbers decided to return home. But most chose to continue traveling north.
"We do not know whether to go illegally, because we see that the situation is complicated," said Marlon Miralda, 23, who was traveling with her two older brothers from Honduras. "Even if I ask for asylum, there is the possibility that they will send me back to my country".