US Policies Are ‘Major' Factor Behind Central American Migrant Caravan

© AP Photo / Eric GayA US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine agent pears out of the open door of a helicopter during a patrol flight near the Texas-Mexico border.
A US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine agent pears out of the open door of a helicopter during a patrol flight near the Texas-Mexico border. - Sputnik International
As a caravan of refugees embarks from Central America destined for the US, fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries, US President Donald Trump has threatened the countries along the route to disperse the group or risk losing foreign aid from the US. If all else fails, he threatened deploy the US military to the Mexico border.

In a trio of tweets Thursday, Trump threatened the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they did not disband the caravan of roughly 1,600 refugees, he would cut off the hundreds of millions of dollars given to those countries in foreign aid by the US every year. Sputnik reported that this amounted to $248 million to Guatemala, $175 million to Honduras and $115 million to El Salvador in the previous fiscal year.

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, are stopped in Granjeno, Texas - Sputnik International
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However, Trump didn't end there. He indicated in one of the tweets that he would "ask Mexico to stop this onslaught — and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!"

The number of refugees who crossed the border from Honduras into Guatemala earlier this week has dwindled from an original high of nearly 3,500 people, according to reports.

The Mexican Federal Police rushed two Boeing-727 airliners carrying hundreds of police with riot gear to the border with Guatemala on Thursday in response to the threats.

AP reported that Mexican officials would not allow Hondurans to enter the country as a group; instead, they would have to produce the necessary papers or apply individually for refugee status — something that can take up to 90 days to get approved. They also said migrants caught without papers would be deported.

​It's expected the issue will be near the top of the agenda when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday.

A migrant father and child rest outside the El Chaparral port of entry building at the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico - Sputnik International
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The Washington Post noted that US Customs and Border Protection had arrested 16,658 migrants in September, a new record, and an 80 percent increase since July, when Trump was forced to end his administration's forcible separation of families at the border and reunite previously-separated families.

The US Justice Department's "zero tolerance" policy, implemented in April, separated thousands of children from their parents by the time it was ended in late June, but even by the end of August, hundreds remained separated. Further, reports surfaced indicating the administration "lost track" of nearly 1,500 migrant children under its purview.

Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear spoke about the situation with Jackie McVicar, a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network, working in solidarity with people struggling for social justice and environmental protection in Latin America, the Caribbean and Atlantic Canada, and a former co-coordinator of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network.

​"People here in Honduras aren't even really talking about the Trump tweets because they seem so far removed from this sort of urgency that people are feeling to have to leave the country," McVicar said. She noted that locals, not only in Guatemala but also in the Mexican state of Chiapas, have helped the migrants and indicated that they would be welcome as the caravan pass through their communities.

In this April 29, 2018 file photo, a member of the Central American migrant caravan, holding a child, looks through the border wall toward a group of people gathered on the U.S. side, as he stands on the beach where the border wall ends in the ocean, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, April 29, 2018 - Sputnik International
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The activist said that Trump's statement is "part of this ongoing discourse to criminalize, to try and make Latin Americans and Central Americans out as criminals who are just trying to have a better future in some way. I mean, they have decided that going to the United States, where there is overt racism and stigmatization against them, is better than what they're living here."

McVicar relayed that up to 5,000 people are expected by shelters in Guatemala City, the country's capital, in the next few days.

The reality, McVicar said, is that tens of thousands of people are trying to flee these countries "because of US policies."

"The United States chose to back the Juan Orlando Hernandez government" in Guatemala after 2013 elections "that were clearly fraudulent instead of respecting the democratic voting of the country that didn't vote for him… that was a major contributing factor to what's happening. US policies that are also in place around economic trade, that are just leaving people in terrible conditions, that are being evicted from their land because of extractivism projects, because of other tourism projects that are displacing people. People don't have anywhere to work because their land is being expropriated from them; they're being paid miserable, miserable salaries because of free trade," according to Vicar.

Anti-government protesters participate in a march in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 20, 2017 - Sputnik International
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"Migration isn't something that is illegal," McVicar said, noting how "ridiculous" the idea is that the US could actually stomach a total cessation of trade with Central America or Mexico over the issue of a couple thousand migrants.

In terms of making the situation better for these people instead of hurting it, the activist told Radio Sputnik that "in Honduras, [the US] could look at the political situation that's unfolding and stop, immediately, supporting the Juan Orlando Hernandez government, immediately say that he needs to respect human rights here and people's security and safety and their right to dignified employment."

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