The caravans of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America have begun to arrive at the Mexican border with the US.
They have braved attacks from the governments of the countries they have passed through, as well as other forces. Two buses carrying over 80 people, some 65 of who were children, have simply disappeared.
And now the caravans are at the border things are no easier. US authorities were last week only processing 100 people a day. There are some 3,000 migrants in the Mexican town of Tijuana, a number expected to rise to over 10,000 in the coming days and weeks.
That means processing asylum claims for everyone there could take months.
Earlier in November President Donald Trump passed an order which proposed that people crossing the border without the required documents would not be able to apply for asylum. Previously they had been able to.
Trump’s order has since been overturned by a Californian judge. But its intended effect—forcing migrants to register at crossing places to begin their asylum claims—has already happened.
On Wednesday of last week Trump tweeted, “There are a lot of CRIMINALS in the Caravan. We will stop them. Catch and detain!”
Some people in Tijuana offer food and clothing to the caravan, but others protest against it, holding signs saying, “No to the invasion.” Some wear hats saying, “Make Tijuana Great Again”.
In our country, Honduras, there is nothing good. Only the rich can live well there. Poor and disabled people like us can’t do anything. We’re cast aside.Isaac, a refugee
Trump has sent as many as 5,800 troops to the border, with orders to use lethal force “if necessary”. Outgoing Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has deployed troops against those seeking safety in the US.
Brendan Cassidy is from the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance (OMDR) campaign in San Diego, California.
He told Socialist Worker that, “the US military’s cooperation sends a disturbing message to xenophobes and nationalists that weapons of war are an appropriate way to respond to refugees fleeing violence and exploitation.”
The caravan has been dubbed a migrant caravan. This language is used by some to say the asylum claims of those making the journey aren’t valid.
“Migrant is a catch-all term that includes everyone. Refugee points to the fact that people are fleeing,” said OMDR member Matthew Vitz.
“People in Central America and here are using the term ‘exodus’, and I think that is more fitting to what is going on.”
Refugee Isaac has a severe physical impairment which has not been diagnosed. He is part of the caravan, but has trouble walking. “In our country, Honduras, there is nothing good. Only the rich can live well there,” he told BBC News.
“Poor and disabled people like us can’t do anything. We’re cast aside.”
The US authorities do not class people such as Isaac as “refugees”.
But, faced with poverty and violence at home—which the US has been directly responsible for—many people can’t return. And they are forcing the US to recognise their demands.
Big mobilisations of refugee solidarity at the borders
Activists in the US organised a day of solidarity on Sunday. Some of the organisers spoke to Socialist Worker.
Matthew Vitz from San Diego in California said, “We want to show our solidarity with the people travelling here and support them in their attempt to claim asylum.”
He is part of the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance (OMDR), one of the groups coordinating the border protest.
“I think this is the start of something bigger,” said Matthew. “We have a lot of signatories for the protest. We want to shift the narrative away from the dehumanisation of migrants that is going on at the moment.
“The mainstream media is repeating uncritically what the government says about refugees.
And Matthew said, “We also want to bring people’s attention to the legacy of US intervention in countries such as Honduras.
“In 2009 there was a military coup which was backed by Barack Obama.
Since then economic free trade agreements have led to violence, paramilitary gangs, the proliferation of drug cartel assassinations and increased violence by the state.”
Matthew said that dozens of organisations are supporting the mobilisation on Sunday. “Migrants rights organisations, socialist organisations and anti?imperialist groups are all involved—it’s like a broad tapestry of the left,” he said.
Brendan Cassidy, also a member of OMDR, said the Migrant and Refugee Coalition—which organised the demonstration—was “formed out of collective fury”.
Dozens of protests across the US have been called, according to Matthew, “from Texas to Colorado.”
“People can feel the urgency of the political moment since Trump was elected.”
Brendan adds, “We cannot simply hope the system will move itself in the direction of justice”.
“Those who seek a world where all can live without fear must work both inside and outside of the system.
“We must always be centred on the voices of those who are most affected.”
Bigotry pushed from the top
The people in the caravan have faced obstructions at every stage of their dangerous journey.
An important part of that obstruction is the racist reporting of the caravans in the mainstream media.
This has been stoked by the racist-in-chief Trump.
He attacked the caravan throughout his midterm election campaigning and has attempted to dehumanise the people travelling to the US.
Crude stereotyping serves to undermine the magnitude of the journey, and the needs of people making it.
Trump’s laws bolster borders
Migrants have focused on crossing the border near towns such as Tijuana, which shares the border with the US state of California.
The state is part of a geographical area with a relatively pro-refugee court.
Last week Trump lashed out at those that had challenged him.
There are limits to how far legal challenges can prevent Trump’s agenda. Arguments from bodies such as the Centre for Immigration Studies think tank have already suggested that border security and similar issues should be exempted from legislative challenges.