Long odds and slow lines await migrant caravan at US border
By ELLIOT SPAGAT
Friday, October 26
TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — A woman arrived just after sunrise at the Mexican entrance to the busiest border crossing into the U.S. and was quickly surrounded by nearly 100 migrants. She opened a tattered, hardcover notebook bound with silver duct tape and began shouting out numbers from a handwritten list.
Migrants came forward when their numbers were called, the signal that they could proceed to San Diego on the American side and ask for asylum in the United States. Most of them had been waiting more than a month in Tijuana for that moment to come.
“We are nervous but happy because — so many days waiting,” said an overjoyed 22-year-old Maria Yuliza Soreque, whose turn came on Tuesday after she and her mother and 2-year-old daughter had bided their time in this city for five weeks. Soreque abandoned the family store in the Mexican state of Michoacan to escape violence and hoped to settle with a friend in Florida, where she has a restaurant job waiting.
It’s a waiting game that plays out each day in Tijuana, giving a glimpse of what the thousands of Central American migrants in the giant caravan now moving through Mexico could face if they reach the U.S. border, probably weeks from now at the earliest.
While it is not clear exactly where or how the migrants intend to come across, they are certain to encounter an immigration system already strained by a surge of families arriving at the U.S. border in recent months.
At border crossings in Texas, asylum seekers camp at the midpoints of bridges connecting the two countries, waiting for days for U.S. border inspectors to say their turn has come. At Tijuana, the wait is more than a month, giving rise to an informal take-a-number system apparently run by volunteers who are themselves asylum seekers. The system spares migrants from having to wait in line or sleep out in the open.
New arrivals in Tijuana give their names to the keeper of the notebook and are issued numbers. Then they wait in the city’s migrant shelters or other places in town, returning every morning to hear the day’s numbers read off when it looks as if their turn is near.
Those seeking asylum in the U.S. undergo an initial interview on the American side in which they try to show they have a “credible fear” of harm in their home countries. Seventy-seven percent of migrants passed their credible-fear screenings between September 2017 and last June, the latest figures available.
After that, asylum seekers may be held in immigration jails until their cases are decided by an immigration judge, which can take as little as a month or two. Many other immigrants are released into the U.S., often with ankle-monitoring bracelets, while they await a ruling that can take years — a practice the Trump administration has condemned as “catch and release.”
The odds of ultimate success for the caravan members appear slim.
Mexicans fared worst among the 10 countries that sent the largest numbers of asylum seekers from 2012 to 2017, with a denial rate of 88 percent, according to an analysis of public records by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse. El Salvadorans were close behind with a 79 percent denial rate, followed by Hondurans at 78 percent and Guatemalans at 75 percent.
On top of that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled in June that fleeing gang or domestic violence is generally not considered grounds for asylum.
On Tuesday, Paula Cabrera, 22, had been in Tijuana for three weeks while she waited for the opportunity to apply for asylum along with her grandmother and 3-month-old daughter. She came every morning to check her status.
Cabrera, who abandoned the family ranch in Michoacan because of threats from a gang and hoped to settle with an uncle in Palo Alto, California, said the shelter where she was staying was overcrowded and she was anxious to move on.
The keeper of the notebook announced there was room for 19 people to claim asylum that morning. An hour later, after speaking with Mexican immigration officials in a white pickup truck nearby, she told the crowd that 40 more could go that afternoon.
Sila Noemi Felix, 45, took a bus from Guatemala with her 13-year-old son, a U.S. citizen who threatened to make the journey on his own if she didn’t join him. A Tijuana couple let her stay in their home in exchange for paying a share of the utility bills.
After she had spent more than four weeks in Tijuana, her number was called. She hopes to join family in Rogers, Kansas, and eventually raise enough money to bring her two older sons, also U.S. citizens, from Guatemala.
“I want a better future for them,” she said.
Migrants travel in groups for a simple reason: safety
October 25, 2018
Henry J. Leir Chair in Global Migration, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University
Karen Jacobsen receives funding from the Henry J. Leir Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation.
Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
A caravan of Central American migrants traveling to through Mexico to the United States to seek asylum is about halfway through its journey.
The caravan began on Oct. 13 in Honduras with 200 people. As it has moved through Honduras, Guatemala and now Mexico, its ranks have grown to over 7,000, according to an estimate by the International Organization of Migration.
The migrants have been joined by representatives from humanitarian organizations like the Mexican Red Cross providing medical assistance and human rights groups that monitor the situation.
Journalists are there, too, and their reporting has caught the attention of President Donald Trump.
He has claimed that the caravan’s ranks probably hide Middle Eastern terrorists. Trump later acknowledged there is no evidence of this, but conservative media outlets have nevertheless spread the message.
It is reasonable for Americans to have security concerns about immigration. But as a scholar of forced migration, I believe it’s also important to consider why migrants travel in groups: their own safety.
Safety in numbers
The Central Americans in the caravan, like hundreds of thousands of people who flee the region each year, are escaping extreme violence, lack of economic opportunity and growing environmental problems, including drought and floods, back home.
Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico have some of the world’s highest murder rates. According to Doctors Without Borders, which provides medical care in crisis zones, 68 percent of the migrants and refugees it surveyed in Mexico had experienced violence. Nearly one-third of women were sexually abused.
Group travel is particularly appealing for women, children and other vulnerable migrants. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino
Whether crossing Central America, the Sahara desert or the mountains of Afghanistan, migrants are regularly extorted by criminals, militias and corrupt immigration officials who know migrants make easy targets: They carry cash but not weapons.
Large groups increase migrants’ chance of safe passage, and they provide some sense of community and solidarity on the journey, as migrants themselves report.
Publicizing the dangers they flee
Large groups of migrants also attract media coverage. As journalists write about why people are on the move, they shed light on Central America’s many troubles.
Yet headlines about huge migrant caravans may misrepresent trends at the U.S.-Mexico border, where migration is actually decreasing.
While the number of Central American families and children seeking asylum in the U.S. has increased in the past two years, Mexican economic migrants are crossing the border at historically low levels.
And while most migrant caravan members hope to seek asylum in the U.S., recent history shows many will stay in Mexico.
In response to Trump’s immigration crackdown, Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to welcome Central American refugees — and try to keep them safe.
How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration
October 31, 2016
Associate Professor of Geography, Vassar College
Joseph Nevins is a member of the editorial committee of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).
Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence – who make up most of the participants of a “caravan” estimated at between 7,000 and 8,000 people – are slowly moving through Mexico in the hope of reaching the United States and receiving refuge.
President Trump has responded by characterizing the caravan as, among other unflattering things, “an onslaught” and “an assault” on the United States. Trump’s statements, which do not accurately characterize the makeup and motivations of the migrants, have pushed many media outlets to rebut his false claims.
The mainstream narrative of such movements of people often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between countries from which people emigrate and countries of destination.
As I have learned through many years of research on immigration and border policing, the history of relations between Honduras and the United States is a prime example of these dynamics. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.
U.S. roots of Honduran emigration
I first visited Honduras in 1987 to do research. As I walked around the city of Comayagua, many thought that I, a white male with short hair in his early 20’s, was a U.S. soldier. This was because hundreds of U.S. soldiers were stationed at the nearby Palmerola Air Base at the time. Until shortly before my arrival, many of them would frequent Comayagua, particularly its “red zone” of female sex workers.
U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in “Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America,” American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.”
By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.” Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector. This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911.
Such developments made Honduras’ ruling class dependent on Washington for support. A central component of this ruling class was and remains the Honduran military. By the mid-1960s it had become, in LaFeber’s words, the country’s “most developed political institution,” – one that Washington played a key role in shaping.
The Reagan era
This was especially the case during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. At that time, U.S. political and military policy was so influential that many referred to the Central American country as the “U.S.S. Honduras” and the Pentagon Republic.
As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country.
The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.
The Reagan administration also played a big role in restructuring the Honduran economy. It did so by strongly pushing for internal economic reforms, with a focus on exporting manufactured goods. It also helped deregulate and destabilize the global coffee trade, upon which Honduras heavily depended. These changes made Honduras more amenable to the interests of global capital. They disrupted traditional forms of agriculture and undermined an already weak social safety net.
These decades of U.S. involvement in Honduras set the stage for Honduran emigration to the United States, which began to markedly increase in the 1990s.
In the post-Reagan era, Honduras remained a country scarred by a heavy-handed military, significant human rights abuses and pervasive poverty. Still, liberalizing tendencies of successive governments and grassroots pressure provided openings for democratic forces.
They contributed, for example, to the election of Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist, as president in 2006. He led on progressive measures such as raising the minimum wage. He also tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.
The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular, sent conflicting messages, and worked to ensure that Zelaya did not return to power. This was contrary to the wishes of the Organization of American States, the leading hemispheric political forum composed of the 35 member-countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean. Several months after the coup, Clinton supported a highly questionable election aimed at legitimating the post-coup government.
Strong military ties between the U.S. and Honduras persist: Several hundred U.S. troops are stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, formerly Palmerola, in the name of fighting the drug war and providing humanitarian aid.
Since the coup, writes historian Dana Frank, “a series of corrupt administrations has unleashed open criminal control of Honduras, from top to bottom of the government.” The Trump administration’s recognition, in December 2017, of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s re-election—after a process marked by deep irregularities, fraud and violence. This continues Washington’s longstanding willingness to overlook official corruption in Honduras as long as the country’s ruling elites serve what are defined as U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.
Organized crime, drug traffickers and the country’s police heavily overlap. The frequent politically motivated killings are rarely punished. In 2017, Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization, found that Honduras was the world’s deadliest country for environmental activists.
Although its once sky-high murder rate has declined over the last few years, the continuing exodus of many youth demonstrates that violent gangs still plague urban neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, post-coup governments have intensified an increasingly unregulated, free market form of capitalism that makes life unworkable for many by undermining the country’s limited social safety net and greatly increasing socioeconomic inequality. Government spending on health and education, for example, has declined in Honduras. Meanwhile, the country’s poverty rate has risen markedly. These contribute to the growing pressures that push many people to migrate.
What will happen to the thousands of people now moving northward? If the recent past is any indication, many will likely stay in Mexico.
What the Trump administration will ultimately do with those who arrive at the U.S. southern border is unclear. Regardless, the role played by the United States in shaping the causes of this migration raises ethical questions about its responsibility toward those now fleeing from the ravages its policies have helped to produce.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Oct. 31, 2016.
Massive Somali community opens surprising experiences to Columbus visitors
Cuisine, art and history celebrated at the annual Somali Culture Festival
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 2nd annual Columbus Somali Culture Festival is slated for Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Northland Performing Arts Center. Columbus’ exploding international population means a melting pot of cultures welcomes visitors with exotic cuisines, arts and traditions. Underscoring the celebrated diversity of Ohio’s capital city, some 60,000 Somali people now call Columbus home, creating the second-largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the United States. The festival is designed to celebrate the city’s openness to immigrants and allow visitors and locals alike to experience the uniqueness of Somali culture through its food, art and history.
Colorful presentations of historical artifacts, Dhaanto and Goobile dances, Riwaayad skits and a fashion show will take place, alongside the artistry of two of Somalia’s most celebrated singers, Abdiwali Sayidka and Ahmed Rasta. Somali cuisine varies regionally and is a fusion of different traditions, including East African, Arab, Turkish and Italian influences, which will be featured at the festival. Columbus Somali Festival tickets are available at the door for $15 or online here.
The festival is hosted by the Our Helpers, a Columbus nonprofit working to help new Americans overcome social and economic obstacles through advocacy, job placement and connection to community resources. Since 2012, it has helped thousands of immigrants break down language and cultural barriers in order to become self-sufficient members of the local economy and part of a cohesive area community. More than 500 independent Somali-owned businesses contribute to Columbus’ diverse local culture, including retail shops, restaurants and specialized trades.
The city offers a host of other ways travelers can experience Somali culture. Visitors of all faiths are invited to visit the Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center, one of the largest mosques in the region. An exhibit filled with traditional Somali garb, artifacts, housewares, instruments and accessories is available at the HUB, a community development corporation.
Columbus visitors can step into a true African market with a trip to Global Mall, where dozens of stalls are filled with of traditional clothing, everyday necessities and even a Somali café, the social and cultural center of the community. In addition, more than 15 Somali restaurants dot the neighborhood, serving authentic fare, including camel, goat and sambusa, as well as other vegetarian specialties. One favorite restaurant, Hoyo’s Kitchen (“Hoyo” is Somali for “mom”), will cater the food for the Nov. 17 Somali Culture Festival. The casual eatery is a favorite among visitors and locals, serving authentic but approachable Somali cuisine in a friendly atmosphere that’s welcoming to first-timers.
Columbus points to its large immigrant population as a source of pride, strength and cultural diversity that enhances life for both visitors and locals. In recognition of the many contributions of the city’s immigrant population, Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther was among the country’s first mayors to announce a continued city-wide commitment to welcoming refugees in Columbus, regardless of immigration status.
“Our immigrant population is part of the fabric of what makes Columbus so vibrant,” Mayor Ginther said in a press release. “They are our neighbors. We must not turn our backs on them, now or ever.”
Columbus has grown as a safe haven for refugees. According to recent data, foreign-born residents make up 9.3% of the city’s population. The local refugee community supports an estimated 21,000 jobs in Columbus and contributes $258 million in local and state income, property and sales taxes.
Columbus is a city unlike any other. Vibrant and alive, Ohio’s capital is known for its open attitude, smart style and entrepreneurial spirit. Columbus’ blend of neighborhoods, dynamic nightlife, noteworthy music scene, arts and culinary experiences, events, attractions and accommodations are all made unforgettable by the diversity of its outgoing locals who warmly welcome visitors. Free travel guides, maps, online booking and detailed information are available at www.ExperienceColumbus.com or 866.397.2657 (866.EXP.COLS). Visitor information is also available on Facebook: facebook.com/ExperienceColumbus, facebook.com/ColumbusFoodScene, Twitter: @ExpCols and Pinterest.