For the past few weeks The Springfield Student has sought to shine a light on the reality of immigration by speaking with students on campus who have immigrated here with their own families. But now, we turn back to the very present issue unfolding near the border.
At this moment thousands of migrants from Central America are within reach of the U.S. border, but have the threat of being forced back home hanging over their heads. This has been reported by countless media outlets worldwide.
Along their journey, migrants have faced danger, hunger, and fatigue, among other things. Many might wonder why one would put themselves and their family through that. According to a study published in the Latin American Research Review, violence in their own home countries is a major factor. Poverty plays a role in many cases, but the study found that these migrants have faced crime and violence on a near daily basis, fueling their desire to leave. BBC described some of the forms this violence takes, such as extortion and gang-forced recruitment. According to a report done by the Igarape Institute, Latin America accounts for just 8 percent of the world’s population, but experiences 33 percent of homicides. Law enforcement tends to offer little help, often overwhelmed by the sheer amount they must contend with. Worse yet, according to that same report, police officers at times may even be involved with organized crime. With all of that it’s no wonder why people have felt a desperate need to escape in search of something better.
The caravan mentioned at the outset has attempted to do just that, reaching Tijuana, Mexico in November. The city of Tijuana was the ideal choice, because of the humanitarian groups stationed there. According to the Arizona Central, Tijuana has nearly 20 shelters that give temporary housing to migrants, more than any other border city. It’s also very close to California, a sanctuary state. But after the influx of migrants arrived in the city, Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum declared an international humanitarian crisis. Most of the shelters could not hold more than 100 people. The gravity of the situation could be seen in one of the largest available shelters in Tijuana. As previously reported in last week’s paper, conditions there at the repurposed sports complex were less than ideal. After being flooded by torrential rains, it became decidedly unlivable.
On December 1, the Mexican government stepped in, opening a secondary shelter for the migrants. El Barretal, a concert theater, is 11 miles away from the border. The theater still has issues to contend with, such as a lack of running water. “There’s no light, no water, no word from anyone about what will happen,” the Washington Post quoted Carlos Humberto Guerra, a Honduran migrant, as saying. However, government officials and humanitarian aid workers have been trying to help, bringing food and other needed supplies to them.
All of this has increased the feeling of unease among the migrants. After a grueling journey they find themselves stuck in limbo. Some have chosen to head home, deciding that being granted asylum in the U.S. might be an impossible dream. Most of the migrants who have arrived must, after all, wait months before even being able to apply for asylum. Others have chosen to try getting settled in Mexico, applying for permits to stay and work legally. And in response to the surge of people and families, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to spend $30 billion during the next five years to help develop Central America. This is in hopes of reviving the violence-stricken countries that migrants have been fleeing from.
Meanwhile, what work is being done on the other end? President Donald Trump has made his feelings on the caravan known, both online and at campaign rallies. Keeping with his rhetoric, aid to Central American countries has been cut as a way of motivating them to do more to stop the movement of migrants towards the border. Over 5,000 troops were deployed to the border to reinforce security, though over 2,000 of the active duty troops will be recalled before the holidays. Aside from this show of force, the response of Border Patrol agents has also been considered controversial. In late November, as members of the caravan attempted to cross the border, confrontations ensued. Several rocks were thrown at the border agents, who in turn fired tear gas into the crowd, along with flash grenades and rubber bullets. Asylum seekers who have taken the other route, by presenting themselves legally at ports of entry, have not had any luck either. A policy of “metering” asylum seekers has limited the amount allowed to enter ports to ask for asylum each day, effectively increasing wait times to weeks or months on end.
For many of those who have made the journey from their own dangerous countries to Mexico, it likely feels as though it was for nothing. In many cases, those seeking asylum have even been warned that they may likely be detained by the American government, only to be sent back to where they came from. Some people looking from the outside may feel that this is more than fair. But, in the past three conducted interviews with Springfield College students, there was a common theme surrounding this: the need for understanding. At the end of the day, immigration is a people issue. Despite the differences in language, culture, and race, the thousands who formed this caravan are people who are seeking a very human thing: a chance.
Photo courtesy of AP News