As Trump complains, Mexicans support Central American refugees

Honduran migrants in Ciudad Hidlago in Mexico.

United States President Donald Trump has resorted to racist comments and extreme measures in response to a procession of refugees and migrants heading towards the US.

In mid-October, thousands of Hondurans left for a journey of many weeks through Guatemala and Mexico to the US. At its peak, the procession of refugees and migrants has included more than 7000 people fleeing unemployment, poverty and gang violence.

In Spanish and some English press, the procession has been referred to as a “caravan”, but Irineo Mujica, director of Pueblo sin Fronteras (People without Borders) said it was more like an “exodus created by hunger and death”.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from Central America arrive in, or pass through Mexico. In 2015, Mexico deported 132,000 Central Americans — far more than the 71,000 deported by the US that year.

Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans flee their countries due to the high murder rates, the normalisation of gang extortion and threats of violence, drought and its effects on food prices, and high unemployment rates.

Migrants and refugees travelling through Mexico routinely face extortion, kidnapping and rape. Travelling in numbers can offer them greater security, but also draws attention to their plight.

This latest procession has raised awareness of the needs of Central American migrants, but has also been met with crackdowns from authorities — and solidarity from locals.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has joined Trump in calling on the migrants to cross borders “legally”. However, the US and Mexico’s joint security plan in Mexico, which involves intense patrolling of the southern border as well as key bus and train routes, has led to 85% of migrants deported from Mexico without a solid revision of their case. Almost 60,000 Central American minors were detailed in migration prisons in Mexico between 2016 and 2017.

The US has responded to the procession by deploying 5000 soldiers to the US-Mexico border in a bid to prevent them passing through. Trump also announced his intention to build tent cities to hold the immigrants until their asylum hearings — which typically take years.

Trump has called the procession “an invasion of our Country” and warned “our military is waiting for you!”

Vice-President Mike Pence supported Trump's claims that there were “Middle Easterners” and “individuals with ties to extremism” among the migrants. He also alleged the procession was funded by “leftist groups” and Venezuela.

The migrants in the procession have created their own security committee of 300 people to look after their safety and ensure they don't litter or disrespect communities they pass through. They will seek to prevent any motives for repression.

They also voted against a plan from Pena Nieto that offered to provide them with medical attention, education and a temporary visa on the condition that they stay in Chiapas or Oaxaca states, and request entrance into Mexico from authorities.

A second procession of migrants with about 2000 people was attacked by police on the Guatemala-Mexico border on October 28. Guatemala sent extra security to the border, and Mexico erected extra fencing in efforts to stop the procession. Some migrants tried to get through the fence and Guatemalan police responded with tear gas. Mexican security forces, meanwhile, used rubber bullets, killing one migrant.

Mexico City’s local administration has sent 47 mobile units with legal and health experts to the first procession. Mexicans have donated clothing and food as the migrant procession passed through their region.

One journalist described the response as locals “jumping into charity mode as if they are responding to a natural disaster. It was hard to walk a block in this town [in Chiapas] without seeing crates of free bottled water, tables packed with ham and cheese tortas [sandwiches] or relief stations filled with medical supplies donated by the community.”

[Tamara Pearson is a journalist based in Puebla, Mexico. She is the author of The Butterfly Prison and blogs at Resistance Words.]

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