By Emma Smith ’22
Since President Donald Trump ordered border officials to prosecute all adults trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in June, about 2000 children of Central American migrants have been separated from their parents. According to the Office of the Attorney General under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), the “zero-tolerance” policy, a policy that was intended to increase criminal prosecution of people caught entering the United States illegally, has led to the separation of many families.
The United Nations’ Human Rights Chief, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, called the policy “child abuse,” and Mexico said the U.S. is violating human rights standards. Regardless, President Trump believes that migrant families become deterred when thinking about illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico if they fear they’ll be separated by the U.S. government.
But Central Americans continue their journey. They believe living in the U.S. will give them a better life, access to better healthcare, quality education and job opportunities. They are also fleeing from dangerous conditions in their home countries including high crime rates, drug trafficking, violence, unemployment and poverty. And although taking the long journey is very dangerous, many see it as their only hope.
Just recently in October, a migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras known for high levels of violence. The caravan started out with fewer than 200 people, but by the time the group had crossed the border into Guatemala, its membership had grown to more than 1000. Many more joined along the way, and eventually, there were over 4000 migrants in the caravan.
By the time they arrived at the San Diego-Tijuana border, the group was estimated to be over 5000 people in size. The Department of Homeland Security claims that there are a least 500 people with criminal records travelling in this caravan.
Most recently, on November 25, U.S. border officials fired tear gas into Mexico to prevent a group of migrants from crossing the border. The Department of Homeland Security said the group had been throwing rocks and other materials at border agents.
In late November, U.S. and Mexican negotiators met to discuss a plan to keep the Central Americans in Mexico while their asylum claims are heard. Normally, asylum-seekers announce their intention when arriving in U.S. after crossing the border illegally. Migrants who line up at the ports of entry at the border often claim “credible fear” asylum. The 1980 Refugee Act allows people to claim credible fear of being persecuted on returning to their home because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political party.
It is unclear how many of the 5000 migrants at the San Ysidro entry point will be granted asylum even if they file a credible fear claim. U.S. inspectors at the main border crossing in San Diego are processing up to 100 asylum claims every day, but thousands still wait.
While the U.S. and Mexico have worked to make the journey into America seem less appealing, many in the caravans claim it’s still better than the realities they face at home, which include extreme violence and poverty.