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Caravan of Central American Migrants Holds a Mirror to Cruel U.S. Immigration Policy & Imperialism

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Despite efforts by Mexican immigration authorities to disband a caravan of Central American migrants, hundreds are still bound for the U.S.-Mexico border. This comes after an early-morning tweet from President Trump that said the caravan “is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene.” The group People Without Borders, or Pueblo Sin Fronteras, has organized the caravan since 2010 to draw attention to the right to seek asylum and refuge. This year its members are disproportionately from Honduras, which remains in political upheaval after U.S.-backed right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernández was inaugurated for a second term despite allegations of widespread election-rigging in November. We get an update from Arturo Vizcarra, a volunteer with People Without Borders. He just returned from the caravan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a caravan of more than a thousand Central American migrants who are on a 2,000-mile journey to the U.S. from the Mexico-Guatemalan border. Some say it’s prompted President Trump’s crackdown on border security. Despite efforts by Mexican immigration authorities to disband the caravan, hundreds are still bound for the U.S.-Mexico border.

This comes after an early-morning tweet from President Trump that said, quote, “The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border. Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low. Stop drugs!”

Trump’s tweet followed a flurry of threats that began on Easter Sunday to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, unless Mexico agrees to join his crackdown on immigration. By Tuesday afternoon, Trump had taken credit for the reduced number of migrants in the caravan.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So a lot of things are changing, but I have just heard that the caravan coming up from Honduras is broken up, and Mexico did that. And they did it because, frankly, I said you really have to do it. We’re going to have a relationship on NAFTA. We’re going to have to include security in NAFTA. So, Mexico, very strong laws, and that’s the way it is. So it looks like it’s been broken up.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Tuesday evening, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray tweeted, quote, “Members of the 'Way of the Cross' caravan dispersed gradually on their own accord. Mexican immigration policy is exercised in a sovereign manner and in accordance with the law, and not from external pressures or threats.”

On Monday, Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration told BuzzFeed News it will allow some migrants, including pregnant women and people with disabilities, to remain, while others will be allowed to apply for humanitarian visas. This is Georgina Garibo, coordinator of the group People Without Borders.

GEORGINA GARIBO GARCÍA: [translated] Migrants should not be abandoned because of some tweets and political heat. It’s very characteristic of Donald Trump to govern via tweets. These tweets, on many occasions, have created a number of inexplicable problems. I think this is one of those cases, creating a xenophobic, racist wave against the people of Central America and Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: The group People Without Borders—that’s Pueblo Sin Fronteras—has organized the caravan since 2010 to draw attention to the right to seek asylum and refuge. This year its members are disproportionately from Honduras, which remains in political upheaval after the U.S.-backed right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernández was inaugurated for a second term despite allegations of widespread voting fraud in November. A common chant by many caravan members is “Fuera JOH,” meaning “Out with JOH.” The J-O-H are the initials of Juan Orlando Hernández.

Well, for more, we’re joined in San Francisco by Arturo Vizcarra, a volunteer with People Without Borders, just returned from the caravan.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arturo. Explain what this caravan is, the fact that it’s gone every single year, and Trump’s singular focus on this caravan.

ARTURO VIZCARRA: Yes, good morning. Well, the caravan—similar caravans have existed for a long time. There were some even in the '80s. But the current iterations have been going on for the last five years. First, as you know, it's a symbolic gesture of the migrants’, you know, terrible journey through Mexico, since it’s fraught with danger, with so many—you know, some estimates at 10,000 migrants, refugees, being killed or disappeared every single year in Mexico. So, originally, I think there was—it was more seen as something both symbolic as well as gathering people together for safety in numbers, given that they were already going to be making the journey, and that on their own, it is much more dangerous.

I think the little bit that’s changed recently is that, you know, I think it’s not really necessarily correct to call it a caravan to the U.S. A lot of people also just want to apply for asylum in Mexico, and have applied for asylum in Mexico, or want to reach other parts of Mexico to join family or friends. But the problem is that Mexico’s asylum immigration laws are also completely inadequate. And because of U.S. pressure and the U.S. Southern Border Plan, which is referring to Mexico’s southern border, there is this enormous pressure for Mexico to also treat these refugees as illegal immigrants. So, you know, I think the caravan members, when I was there, they were—they’re very clear that this is also just kind of a caravan that is also there to fight for their rights as refugees and asylum seekers in both Mexico and the U.S. So, Pueblo Sin Fronteras just provides legal advice so people are aware of their rights in both Mexico and the U.S., so they can make the decision whether they would like to apply—try to stay in Mexico and apply for asylum there, or hand themselves in, according to Title 8, Section 1225, of U.S. Federal Code, and apply for asylum in the United States.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Arturo, if I could ask you to elaborate on that, the changes in Mexico’s immigration and asylum policies, what specifically the U.S. has been asking Mexico to do, and the enormous transformation that’s occurred? Since 2015, Mexico has, in fact, been deporting more people from Central America than the U.S. has.

ARTURO VIZCARRA: Yeah, that’s correct. You know, as part of a longtime plan of Plan Mérida, which some people call Plan Mexico, which is part of the war on drugs, the so-called war on drugs, one of the pillars is also for Mexico to basically crack down on immigration. So there’s this kind of, you know, just kind of mixing in of drug trafficking and migrants, which is ridiculous. We’re talking about refugees here.

And so, the U.S., specifically, has given, at least through the State Department—and it’s very hard to come through with the numbers—but, through the State Department, has given over $100 million to Mexico, basically to detain and deport Central American and other refugees and migrants. And we don’t really know exactly how much money and equipment has been given through the Department of Defense, but this is a very—just as your previous guest, Todd Miller, was talking about, this is very much a militarized approach to a humanitarian and social problem. And, you know, the Mexican marines are the ones that kind of coordinate a lot of the immigration interdiction. This is all kind of coordinated also by the U.S., which has Customs and Border Patrol and ICE throughout the territory of Mexico.

The U.S.—you know, some officials speak openly about how they see the U.S.'s border as being Mexico and Mexico's southern border, so they’re pushing the U.S. border south. So it’s pretty ridiculous of Trump to say that Mexico hasn’t done anything. Mexico has been flagrantly violating the rights of Central American asylum seekers at the behest of the U.S. At the same time, Mexico has a longtime problem of discrimination and bias and violence toward Central Americans. And now they’re once again doing Trump’s dirty work and the U.S.’s dirty work and further violating the rights of—


ARTURO VIZCARRA: —Central American asylum seekers.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to caravan coordinator Irineo Mujica, speaking Tuesday after Donald Trump announced he would send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border if the caravan isn’t stopped.

IRINEO MUJICA: [translated] If Trump wants to protect his border with the military, then he should do it. The refugee caravan will not go up against the military and nobody is thinking of going to the border and crossing, like in an action movie. No, sir. If a person in the caravan asks for humanitarian assistance at the border, as set out in international law, then they can. Secondly, if Trump wants to use us as a case for his border wall, if he wants the military in place, then do it. If he wants his wall, then he should build it.

AMY GOODMAN: A group of more than 500 Central American migrants apparently broke away from the caravan and reached Orizaba, hundreds of miles southeast of Mexico City, late Tuesday. They were able to reach the small town via train but were stopped by Mexican officials. Two migrants—Henry Estuardo, an El Salvadoran, and Sebastián Cervantes from Honduras—described what happened.

HENRY ESTUARDO: [translated] There were like 15 immigration officials waiting to grab us. But considering that there was a group of about 500 of us, 532 of us, they couldn’t grab us. Later, they climbed aboard the train cars and started throwing all of our things and our food on the ground.

SEBASTIÁN CERVANTES: [translated] The officials wanted to take us off the train, but we resisted. Sadly, they did manage to make us get off the train. We had to walk really far to get to this town, where we’re getting help with food, clothes, water and even shoes.

AMY GOODMAN: Arturo Vizcarra, we only have a minute to go, but if you could tell us where the caravan is now and what you expect will happen and whether you think a broader discussion is happening about the reasons why—and this was an issue Todd Miller also raised—the reasons why these migrants are coming forward and appealing for asylum on the border?

ARTURO VIZCARRA: Well, it’s a little unclear what’s happening. Obviously, the Mexican government has tried to disband the caravan. Right now, we’re continuing—there’s a legal forum being held in Puebla, Mexico. So, hopefully, even some of those migrants that kind of separated will also be able to reach that this weekend, wherewith U.S. and Mexican legal experts will help them understand their—better understand their rights and be able to make decisions for themselves and their families as to what they want to do. As Irineo said, there’s—you know, it’s perfectly legal, again, to apply for asylum at the border.

I think, most importantly, the last thing that, you know, we would like to discuss would be just that the U.S. is responsible. We’re seeing the real-time effects of U.S. foreign policy, of not just the 2009 coup in Honduras that has unleashed a wave of repression and economic violence and political prisoners since, for now nine years, but now these people that are on this caravan self-describe as refugees of the dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernández, who obviously is only in power because he fixed the elections. And the U.S., in the middle of this crisis, instead of standing for democracy in the hemisphere, quickly recognized this government, also certified its human rights record so that they can continue receiving military aid and other aid. And it’s up to us to also demand that there be an end in the support of the Honduran dictatorship. If you don’t want more refugees coming to the border or coming to Mexico, then you should stop with your policies that create the refugee crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Arturo Vizcarra, I want to thank you for being with us, just back from the People Without Borders caravan in Mexico. Thank you very much for joining us.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, is your cellphone dangerous to your health? We’ll be joined by investigative reporter Mark Hertsgaard. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Caravana Migrante”—that’s “Migrant Caravan”—”2018” by Jimmy Golden, a member of the 2017 Refugee Caravan. He wrote and recorded this song about migrants’ fight for justice through caravans.

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