What migrants in the caravan want the world to hear

November 26, 2018

Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at members of the migrant caravan stopped in Tijuana on Sunday as several hundred approached the border fence that divides the U.S. and Mexico — and federal officials then shut down the San Ysidro border crossing in both directions. The confrontation was the latest escalation of tensions as the Trump administration continues to spout its anti-immigrant hate and lies.

Migrants from Central America fleeing violence and poverty — for which the U.S. government bears overwhelming responsibility — have been journeying north in several caravans for weeks, with many hoping to apply for asylum to live in the U.S. The first caravan to reach the border, now numbering in the thousands, has been blocked by the Trump administration’s cruel policy — which is illegal under international law — of refusing to allow the migrants across the border to make their asylum claims.

Over the weekend, Donald Trump claimed in a series of tweets that his regime had won a major concession from the incoming administration of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador that would leave migrants waiting in Mexico until their asylum claims are fully processed in the U.S. But on Sunday, AMLO’s soon-to-be Interior Minister Olga Sánchez said in a statement: “There is no agreement of any sort between the incoming Mexican government and the U.S. government.”

A deal could still be worked out in the days before AMLO’s government takes office on December 1, but in the meanwhile, conditions have grown more dire for the migrants who are stranded at the border. They also face hate and hostility from some within Mexico. Last week, hundreds of people, chanting “Mexico first,” marched in Tijuana in protest of the migrants in a demonstration that was likely organized with support from the right-wing National Action Party that runs the city and state government.

Meanwhile, more migrants are journeying through Mexico. Socialist Worker contributor Fermin Valle traveled to Mexico City this month. While there, he visited the church where successive migrant caravans have taken refuge. Here’s the message that the migrants told him to bring back to the U.S.

WHILE IN Mexico City, I visited La Basilica De Guadalupe, a sanctuary of the Catholic Church, where caravans numbering as many as 1,000 migrants, mostly from El Salvador, have arrived in waves this month and taken refuge.

When I arrived, I heard Father Alejandro Solalinde, director of Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers on the Road), and Carlos Rojas, a representative of Consejo Migrante de Montreal (Migrant Council of Montreal), speaking to reporters. Both have been working with religious and civil society organizations in Mexico and around the world to aid the migrants, but without much success.

A migrant caravan from Central America reaches Mexico City
A migrant caravan from Central America reaches Mexico City

Solalinde said that he did not support migrants deciding to keep journeying toward the U.S. border because he didn’t want them subjected to the danger and violence that awaits them as they travel north and reach Tijuana.

It would be a few days before the migrants would meet, discuss and decide on their next steps. After Solalinde and Rojas were done speaking to the press, I stayed behind to talk to some of the migrants from the caravan.

When they caught wind that a U.S.-based activist wanted to learn more about their situation, a group of about 35 migrants came out of the refuge and held an impromptu meeting with me — in which they told their stories, asked questions and discussed the type of solidarity they are looking for from people around the world.

Here is what I learned.

THE MIGRANTS traveling with the caravan were fully aware of the depths of opposition they face, both in the U.S., but also in Mexico. They pointed out that just a few people in the caravan had gotten into trouble with Mexican police, but the police painted a negative image of the entire caravan.

They spoke about the xenophobia that they have endured from Spanish-speaking media outlets in Mexico City, and also that the first caravan was met with in Tijuana. The migrants explained that while Mexico as a whole has received them warmly, others accepted the bigoted caricatures of them as criminals and ungrateful for the food and shelter provided to them during their time in Mexico.

They wanted to make clear to the world that they are chasing a dream of a better life, and that they left their country in search of jobs to feed their families and children, to buy medicine for sick loved ones, to escape the violence of gangs and drug cartels, and maybe even to find opportunities to send their kids to college.

The migrants felt helpless in trying to counter the ugly image of the media, and they were happy that SocialistWorker.org was there — to help cut through the smears that they are criminals and to portray them as the hardworking people they are, in search of jobs and with dreams like everyone else.

They said that not a single English-speaking media outlet had been present at any point in their travels — Socialist Worker was the first and only.

Daniella, a mother of four from El Salvador, talked about her decision to try to escape years of violence by gangs. Her daughter was recently accepted to a university in El Salvador, and she wants to find work so she can send money to help her daughter pay for college. Leaving behind her entire family, Daniella has dreams of seeing her daughter graduate from college.

She said she was willing to take the risk of traveling on her own with the caravan — and that traveling with other women was safer for her in a world that makes migrant women incredibly vulnerable to sexual violence.

Daniella said that she has been unable to find work after losing her job. In fact, she was escaping the dangerous conditions of violence and poverty that are a direct result of decades of U.S. intervention in El Salvador to support a military dictatorship, government repression, oligarchic rule and neoliberal policies.

El Salvador is part of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) that has led to a drastic restructuring of the region’s economy. In particular, CAFTA-DR has allowed for the influx of U.S. agricultural and industrial goods that weakened and destroyed domestic industries. Daniella’s lost job is a direct consequence.

After our impromptu meeting, I spoke to Eduardo, who had lived in the U.S for almost 30 years before he was deported back to El Salvador.

Eduardo, who has three children still in the U.S., had a work visa that he had always been able to renew. But he had the misfortune of taking a vacation to Canada after the Trump administration began cracking down.

Upon re-entering the U.S., he was detained by ICE agents, who accused him of resisting arrest, and assault and battery. In reality, Eduardo was the one who was beaten by the agents and treated like an animal without any human rights. Within a few weeks of his arrest at the border, he was deported.

Eduardo joined the caravan of migrants hoping to be reunited with his children in the U.S., and he is currently looking for an attorney to reopen his case. But his future with the caravan is uncertain because he fears that media slanders about the caravan being filled with criminals could hurt his chances of re-entering the U.S. to see his children.

THE MIGRANTS told me that they are terrified of both drug cartels and right-wing groups inflicting violence, both in the U.S. and in Mexico.

They had learned that the first caravan had reached Tijuana, that the city’s mayor had spoken negatively about migrants, and that one person in the caravan was killed by cartels.

They also fear the far-right groups in the U.S. that are armed and ready to meet them at the border. News of this hate and violence caused about 100 migrants to turn themselves in to Mexican authorities, to be deported back to El Salvador. But others said that violence existed back home as well, and they were willing to take the risk to pursue their dreams of entering the U.S.

I confirmed that there were indeed right-wing groups in the U.S. that intended to meet the migrants at the border, but I also talked about the various organizations that are currently organizing solidarity, including a caravan to greet the them at the border.

I spoke about the popular resistance in the U.S. that has mobilized some of the largest protests in U.S. history during the first two years of the Trump administration: from the Women’s Marches that drew millions, to the airport protests that pressured the courts to overturn Trump’s first Muslim travel ban, to the 25,000-strong mobilization against the far right in Boston in August 2017.

I also talked about the coalition of organizations that were coming together to support migrants as they make their way to the border, and the call to action for demonstrations nationwide this past weekend.

The migrants in the caravan had no idea that a popular resistance existed against Trump, his administration and the growing right wing. They were excited to find out that socialists and other activists were organizing support — this boosted their morale for traveling to the border.

THE MIGRANTS were enthusiastic about the potential for solidarity across borders. When I said that some groups in the U.S. were organizing a solidarity caravan to the border to greet them with open arms, they responded with joy.

For the 35 migrants I spoke to, this was the “million-dollar question”: Where would this solidarity caravan arrive? All the migrants agreed that the answer to that question would help determine their next steps, since they would prefer that location, as the solidarity caravan could help ensure safety and support at the border.

Those I spoke to expressed fear about going to Tijuana, where they worried that they would be met with violence on both sides of the border. They hoped instead to connect with groups in the U.S. to learn more about where they could be met by larger numbers of people willing to put pressure on Trump, his administration and the courts to grant them a safe hearing for political asylum and work.

At our impromptu meeting, the migrants agreed on three key steps for organizing international solidarity:

Working to tear down xenophobic and racist lies that treat them as criminals, and instead humanizing their struggles and hopes for a better future.

Continuing to communicate with groups in the U.S. that are willing to organize solidarity across borders

Collectively agreeing on a location at the border to organize and mobilize the broadest possible support for when they arrive.

As the meeting came to a close, we were all inspired by the slogan: “La lucha obrera no tiene fronteras!” (Workers’ struggles have no borders!)

In the U.S., it is up to us — human rights groups, religious organizations, community groups, students, workers, unions, socialists and radicals — to continue to unite the broadest numbers of people to express their solidarity with the migrants.

We need to cohere a powerful display of multiracial, student-worker, international solidarity that can win a world without racism, xenophobia, nationalism, fascism, capitalism — and the borders on which all of these systems of oppression and exploitation rely for their domination and profit.

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