Where Now for the Migrant Caravan Facing Trump’s Threats?

(Bloomberg) -- With migrants from Honduras and elsewhere in Central America marching northward toward Mexico’s border with the U.S. in a thousands-strong “caravan,” U.S. President Donald Trump confronts an issue near to his heart. He’s seeking to make undocumented immigration a key issue in midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6 and threatens to cut U.S. aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for not "stopping people from leaving" those countries.

1. Who are the migrants?

They are farmers, city dwellers, single men and women, and children. The caravan formed in San Pedro Sula, the Honduras second city, on Oct. 12 and gained adherents as it progressed toward Guatemala and into Guatemala. Honduras is one of the world’s most violent and gang-ridden nations, and many of its people flee extortion from organized criminals, on top of poverty and joblessness. Some estimates say there may now be as many as 7,000 people, divided in several groups making their way through Mexico at varying speeds. Migrants often travel in large groups for safety from criminals and corrupt officials.

2. When will they reach the U.S. border?

Most are still weeks away at the earliest, the Associated Press reported on Oct. 25, after an initial challenge of crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. So many or most members of the caravan may never reach the U.S. border. “It’s hard to imagine that they could stay that cohesive for that far,” said Adam Isacson, of the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, which studies human rights in the region. An earlier caravan that set out in March dissolved into smaller groups before it even reached Mexico City. The caravan had more than 1,000 members at its peak but, of these, only 200-300 arrived at U.S. ports of entry, according to an estimate by WOLA. Some returned to Central America, while others melted into the Mexican labor force.

3. What happens if and when they cross the U.S. border?

Under standard U.S. border procedures, the migrants would be detained for not having the required documents and asked whether they’re afraid of returning to their home. A person who says “no” will be removed from the U.S. A person who expresses fear of persecution or torture would be interviewed by an asylum officer to establish whether there is credible fear of persecution. Michael J. Bars, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in an email that the “extremely low bar” for establishing credible fear allows economic migrants to abuse the system by posing as asylum seekers, then disappear before their court dates to live illegally in the U.S. About 60 percent of asylum requests are denied, according to data collected by TRAC, a research center affiliated with Syracuse University. Some adults may wait in detention while their asylum case in processed, while families often are released on their own recognizance.

4. What has Trump said?

He says "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners" are among the migrants in the caravan, without providing attribution or evidence. (A team from the Associated Press traveling with the caravan for more than a week reported not meeting any.) He’s said to be ready to send at least 800 additional troops to the border. Trump, a Republican, also has blamed Central American migration on U.S. Democrats who he says are unwilling to reform “pathetic” U.S. immigration laws.

The Reference Shelf

  • A QuickTake explainer on refugees and asylum.
  • About that wall Trump said Mexico would pay for.
  • The New York Times spoke to some of the migrants about why they headed north.
  • Bloomberg has collected photographs of the migrant caravan moving north.
  • A Congressional Research Service overview on U.S. laws regulating admissions and exclusions of aliens at the border.
  • Amnesty International reports on Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

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