Central American countries are heeding President Donald Trump’s call to improve security on their own borders, and a new “migrant caravan” headed to the United States’ border with Mexico, was turned back as it reached Guatemala, and its members were bussed back to their homes in Honduras.
The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency struggled to contain an influx of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and other Central American countries back in 2018, with thousands upon thousands of asylum seekers presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trump administration subsequently struggled to handle border policy, balancing public opinion — which seemed to weigh in favor of migrants detained at the border — with border control and enforcing immigration policy.
By early 2019, after a series of changes including a “remain in Mexico” policy that forced asylum seekers to wait for their hearings south of the U.S. border and pressure on the Mexican government to control their own southern border, the migrant caravans stopped.
Late last week, however, a new caravan of migrants entered Guatemala, intent on moving through the Central American country to Mexico and then on to the U.S. border, likely reaching the U.S.-Mexico border just ahead of the presidential elections.
This time, though, Guatemala took decisive action, according to The Associated Press.
“Hundreds of Honduran migrants who had entered Guatemala this week without registering were being bused back to their country’s border Saturday by authorities who met them with a large roadblock,” the outlet reported. “By 5 a.m. Saturday, none of 1,000 or so migrants who had been stalled by police and soldiers remained along a stretch of rural highway. Police said that hours earlier, migrants had boarded buses and army trucks to be taken back to the border.”
Adding to suspected pressure from the Trump administration and from the Mexican government was fear over the novel coronavirus.
“Seldom since 2018 had the prospects for a migrant caravan been so discouraging,” AP noted. “Guatemala’s president saw them as a contagion risk amid the coronavirus pandemic and vowed to deport them. Mexico’s president speculated that the caravan was a plot to influence the U.S. elections. And newly formed Tropical Storm Gamma threatened to dump torrential rain on their planned route through southern Mexico.”
Mexico is just now experiencing a decline in coronavirus infections. Around 750,000 Mexicans fell ill with COVID-19, and around 80,000 have died. In Guatemala, the virus is still a clear and present danger; there have been just shy of 100,000 cases and around 4,000 deaths. Cases have leveled off, but Guatemala is not yet experiencing a decline in coronavirus infections.
The Hondurans that are able to continue through Guatemala and on to Mexico will find assistance. Mexico says they will help those seeking asylum, though that help may be limited by a looming threat of Trump administration tariffs. Typically, Mexico offers members of migrant caravans the option of staying in Mexico on a work visa or returning, all expenses paid, back to their countries of origin.