This past Tuesday, Associate Professor of Politics Rebecca Evans gave a presentation titled, “The Journey North: Exploring Reasons for Migration from Honduras to the United States.” The event was held in the Bear’s Den at Wismer Hall and was sponsored by The Latin American Studies Program and Joseph H. Melrose Center for Global Civic Engagement.
The purpose of the presentation was to inform members of the Ursinus community about the large caravan that is traveling north from Honduras and discuss how the United States should respond to the movement.
Evans explained that the caravan began with an estimated 200 migrants from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, who decided to walk together to the border on October 12th.
According to the “New York Times,” the caravan assembled through a social media campaign that started in early October. The campaign drew the attention of a Honduran news outlet, which focused on the criticism of the Honduran president.
“As they got more publicity, as Facebook posts spread, as they traveled miles and miles, first across Honduras then into Guatemala and currently through Mexico, more people have joined,” Evans said. Migrant advocate and former lawmaker Bartolo Fuente, from Honduras, helped promote the caravan.
Although this isn’t the first caravan to approach the United States from Central America, the number of children traveling with the rest of the migrants sets it apart.
Many of the migrants fled San Pedro Sula to escape the dangers there. At one point, it was considered the most dangerous city in the world.
Gang violence, lack of police protection, poverty, and the increase of femicide drove migrants to flee.
Freshman Santi Van Ness Martinez discussed the realities of Honduras. “Having lived in Honduras, I’ve sadly had to witness death at first hand, friends, family, and others around me murdered or beaten. Fear whenever you stopped at a red light or a motorcycle drove by is something my family and I worried about every day. The reality is harsh because nobody should have to live in that fear, yet millions of people do every day.”
Migrants travel in large groups to have the security they wouldn’t have when traveling on their own. Many migrants resort to hiring somebody knowledgeable of the route to minimize the danger; however, they are often coerced to pay thousands of dollars to get smuggled across the border.
“Traveling in a large group means that you don’t have to pay seven thousand or ten thousand dollars to smuggle you, to help guide you across the border. You also have safety in numbers,” Evans said.
According to Evans, after approximately a week’s worth of walking, the original members of the caravan and others who joined them afterward made it to the border between Guatemala and Mexico.
“At this point, there were an estimated 7,000 migrants who were part of this caravan and they were blocked initially by Mexican police,” Evans said.
Although the migrants were stopped by the Mexican authorities, they were allowed to cross the border and offered shelter.
A number of migrants sought asylum. Mexican authorities have begun the screening process, however, due to the lack of police officers, the process has gone rather slowly.
Mexico has requested aid for the screening process from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Evans explained the likelihood that the number of migrants in the caravan will begin to decrease. She said the numbers initially expanded but will start to dwindle.
“So by the time people will get to the border, the numbers will drop dramatically,” Evans said.
According to CNN, as of October 31st, the Pentagon announced 5,200 troops were being sent to the border, with an additional 2,000 planned.
The “Washington Post” stated the journey of the migrants led President Trump to request 15,000 be sent to the border.
But Evans said the troops lack power over those attempting to cross the border.
“One of the things that are true for national guard troops, as well as the U.S. Military, is that they are legally not allowed to perform the functions of border police,” Evans said.
The Posse Comitatus Act limits what the U.S. military and national guard can do in terms of deploying force within U.S. borders. Thus, according to current law, border police are able to detain or arrest and process the migrants who are coming into the country illegally.
Martinez expressed his frustration with the responses from the United States.
“Separating families and deporting hardworking people is the last thing that needs to happen right now. So many people are striving to reach the US for this so-called American dream, this concept that they can go somewhere for a more prosperous life and safety, yet when they arrive, they are treated so poorly,” Martinez said.
Although he thought the lecture was informative, Martinez said the majority of the presentation consisted of negative statistics.
“I would have liked to see a little bit of information about the actual people, the reasons why they personally are fleeing, the positive statistics or opinions. Personally, I think of Honduras as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It may be a third-world country but there are so many reasons that its inhabitants love it. It should be taken into effect the reasons why people might want to stay in Honduras despite the danger and how they have come to a point where they just have to leave,” Martinez said.