Why Migrant Caravans Keep Forming

It seems as though overnight, the words “migrant caravan” have become embedded in the nation’s vocabulary. The term is splashed across television networks’ chyrons and national newspapers. President Donald Trump has raised the ongoing caravan at rallies as a threat to the United States and cited it as a reason for an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws.

But migrant caravans aren’t new—and they’re not going away.

For years, advocacy groups have organized caravans to help those fleeing danger in Central America safely reach the United States, and, in the process, highlight the dangers migrants face in trying to reach the American border. A group called Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which has been organizing caravans since 2008, was behind the group that caught the attention of Trump and other Republicans in March. Trump eventually signed a proclamation to send the National Guard to the border.  

What makes the latest venture unique is its apparent spontaneity.

“It appears to have gone viral,” said Maureen Meyer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human-rights advocacy organization. “People who had thought about it then decided this is the time to do it. I don’t think anyone had expected this very unprecedented number of people to be able to travel and gather together so quickly.” In response, Defense Secretary James Mattis is reportedly expecting to send 800 more National Guard troops to the border, where they’d assist Customs and Border Patrol but wouldn’t be involved in migrant apprehension.

According to the Honduran government, the caravan currently making its way through Mexico can be traced back to a Facebook post by Bartolo Fuentes, an activist and former Honduran lawmaker. On October 5, Fuentes posted a graphic listing a date, time, and place to meet. “We’re not leaving because we want to,” the graphic reads. “Violence and poverty chase us out.” A group of about 160 Honduran migrants set out from San Pedro Sula, in the country’s northwest, eight days later.

The group’s numbers grew as it made its way north, as people—who either saw news of it on television or got word from others—joined. The caravan, which at its peak was estimated to consist of as many as 7,000 migrants, offers those who for years might have considered leaving their origin country—whether because of violence or economic insecurity—the opportunity to do so without paying steep smuggling costs. It also provides some security for what is a dangerous journey riddled with extortion, kidnapping, and sexual abuse.

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