Explainer: How a caravan of migrants from Honduras triggered “a national emergency” for the US

By Prarthana Mitra

A historic march of migrants flooded the streets of Southern Mexico on Sunday, as a caravan of around 4000 people made their way from Honduras towards the US border in search of a better life.

Fleeing from a massive internal crisis and administrative breakdown, their onward march arrived at a brief halt when Mexican border patrol pushed them back with riot gear and pepper spray near the border. Ultimately, the marching migrants made an end-run around the Mexican agents who were taken by surprise by the sheer and unprecedented number of people.

Here’s what happened

The migrants cited widespread political turmoil after the presidential elections last year, and unabated violence, poverty and corruption in the Central American country as the primary reason behind their northward march.

Some claimed to seek better employment opportunities and stated that they would not proceed further if they received asylum in Mexico. Majority of them who crossed Guatemala together was estimated to be between 2,000 to 3,000, while smaller groups fell behind after they reached Mexico, according to human rights watch reports.

Here’s how Trump reacted

Calling the timing suspect (right before the mid-term elections), US president Donald Trump found a reason to believe that the caravan was funded by left-leaning activist George Soros or the Democratic Party. His administration even tried to kindle America’s inherent fear of the immigrant, which Elizabeth Oglesby, Latin American Studies professor, debunks. ”The reason that the caravans have been organized are to help protect Central American refugees and migrants as they make the perilous journey through Mexico and to highlight their petitions for asylum,” she told NBC, asking people not to be fuelled by hysteria.

Trump tweeted on Monday “I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy,” after having called the caravan a mob routinely in the past. He even threatened to seal the border in order to prevent them from entering the United States. Trump has, however, been all praise for Mexico, in recognition of their attempts to ward off the largest caravan of migrants in recent history.

The origin of the caravan

Having received aid and cheer from sympathetic Mexican onlookers, the migrants persisted in their journey with food, water and clothing that they received on the way. Several migrants told the press that the caravan had begun spontaneously through word of mouth and is now being led by different regional heads making logistical decisions for their respective caravans on when and how to leave each city. Originally, Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker and social activist, sent the word out to Hondurans to convene at the San Pedro Sula bus station and leave the country.

Guatemalan police arrested Fuentes last week after Trump threatened to cut funding if they did not stop the caravan. Guatemala’s migration agency later confirmed that another group of about 1,000 migrants crossed into the country from Honduras on Sunday. ”Several thousand people marching and staying together for 1600 miles is pretty much unthinkable,” Adam Isacson, from the rights advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America, said, adding that there are many checkpoints the migrants will have to go through in Mexico. Some, he said, may even choose to claim asylum in Mexico, while most caravans are expected to splinter once they reach Mexico.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius