Hundreds of Central Americans — many with families in tow — have begun the journey to the U.S. border hoping the new president will allow them to claim refugee status and enter the United States.
They will likely be stopped in Mexico thanks to coronavirus restrictions, but the incoming Biden administration is worried that this is only the beginning. Joe Biden’s campaign rhetoric promised a “more humane” immigration policy and expanded the number of those able to claim refugee status. This will inevitably lead to a massive influx of those seeking asylum at the border.
On Thursday, Guatemala cited the pandemic in order to declare emergency powers in seven border provinces migrants frequently transit through en route to Mexico. The measures limit public demonstrations and allow authorities to disperse any public meeting, group or demonstration by force.
Honduras and Guatemala have announced they will deploy thousands of soldiers to preemptively stop caravan members, while Mexico also deployed agents to its southern border on Thursday.
Both nations cooperated with the Trump administration in 2019 to limit the flow of migrants coming to the U.S. — largely because they were threatened with sanctions by Trump. But it worked. The crisis at the southwest border eased considerably.
Now the whole ugly mess threatens to start up again. Biden will be under enormous pressure to treat the migrants “humanely” at the border, which includes allowing them to cross into the United States. They won’t be detained. They will be allowed to go into the interior to wait 3-5 years for their hearings before an immigration judge.
The migrants say they are escaping poverty, unemployment, and gang and drug violence, as well as the aftermath of two violent hurricanes that hit the country last November.
But Washington has warned the migrants against making the journey, especially at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a deadly journey — the US Border Patrol recovered more than 250 bodies along the US-Mexico border last fiscal year,” Mark Morgan, acting Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement last week.
At least Guatemala is taking some precautions to prevent people infected with the virus into their country.
Guatemala’s government has warned that anyone wanting to pass through its territory must show a negative coronavirus test and have their papers in order.
Mexico’s consulate in San Pedro Sula, from where caravans usually leave, warned that its government “does not encourage and will not allow the illegal entry of caravans.”
That may change as Biden’s “more humane” approach to immigration takes shape. Mexico especially would like nothing better than to ease pressure on its economy and institutions by allowing as many people as possible to leave for the United States. With no punitive measures taken by Biden to discourage it, it’s likely that caravans and a big increase in illegal border crossings will become a reality.