No one knows for sure how many migrants make up the caravan that left Tapachula last Monday, near the border with Guatemala; the organizers speak of more than 15,000, the Mexican immigration authorities reduce it to 7,000. We will probably never have a precise answer since, in this type of exodus, the paths of its protagonists usually divide at some point in the strenuous route. What everyone agrees on is that this group of migrants, who began their journey coinciding with the opening of the Summit of the Americas, is the largest in living memory.
Hoping to catch the attention of regional leaders gathered in Los Angeles, the human tide is moving slowly but surely toward the US border, more than 3,000 km away. They leave behind Tapachula, a city that has become a kind of ‘prison’ for thousands of migrants forced to wait for several months for the resolution of their transit permits. It is estimated that there are 35,000 stranded in this town of 300,000 inhabitants. The border city has become a pressure cooker from which migrant caravans regularly leave, although the vast majority are forcibly disbanded by the National Guard.
In its first days on the road, the caravan that challenges the Summit of the Americas has not suffered setbacks, but its organizers distrust appearances. “It is necessary that this migratory crisis be dealt with in accordance with the law, humanitarian visas for one year, immediately, that are valid in national territory,” demanded Luis Rey García Villagrán, director of the Center for Human Dignification and convener of the mobilization, in statements to Eph. As detailed by the activist, more than 5,000 families travel in the group, 93 pregnant women and 3,000 children.
Unlike other calls, in which Hondurans, Haitians and Salvadorans were the majority nationalities, on this occasion, 80% of the members of the caravan are Venezuelans. The Ministry of the Interior estimates that, between January and September 2021, the irregular transit of Venezuelans increased by more than 1,000% compared to the same period of the previous year. Their travel conditions have worsened enormously since, on January 21, Mexico changed the entry requirements and began to demand visas to enter the country. Guatemalan authorities have also detected a significant increase in Salvadoran gang members trying to cross the border to escape the persecution that President Nayib Bukele has unleashed since he imposed the state of emergency on March 27.
The first objective of the Caravan will be to reach Mexico City, where they plan to report delays in the resolution of their immigration procedures to the offices of the National Institute of Migration (INM). The spokesperson for ‘Pueblos sin Fronteras’, Irineo Mújica, is in constant communication with the organizers of the Caravan and, as he explained to EL MUNDO, “the Mexican government cannot have so many people traveling on the roads, I think they will reach an agreement to be able to solve this problem. We hope that the government will give them the opportunity to regularize themselves and will not let them walk to the capital”.
In addition to the growing militarization of the territory and the delays in processing visas, migrants face another serious problem when they reach the northern border: the controversial Title 42. This reform of the US Public Health Law, implemented in the times of Donald Trump , was proposed as a measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but has ended up becoming an unprecedented restriction on the right to asylum: border agents have the right to immediately expel irregular migrants, with the exception of unaccompanied minors. According to data from the Office of Customs and Border Protection, almost two million people have been deported since Title 42 took effect.
For almost two years, this ‘bureaucratic wall’ has been responsible for Mexico registering record numbers on migration: in 2021 it had its highest number of arrests, with 307,569 migrants, and also asylum requests, with 130,863 , becoming the third country with the most requests worldwide, according to UNHCR. The management of the migration crisis will be one of the central issues of the Summit of the Americas, but the main political actors of the countries involved will not be present in Los Angeles.
The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has waited for the same day that the meeting was inaugurated to reject the invitation, “because not all the countries of America are invited,” as he explained, in reference to the notorious exclusions of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. The Mexican leader has described the blockade suffered by the Cuban people as “genocide” and has warned that he will not accept “hegemony from China, Russia, or the United States.” Nor have the presidents of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, traveled to Los Angeles, reflecting the low degree of enthusiasm and support that Biden’s policy arouses for the region.
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