Mi­grants carry on in face of poli­cies

Af­ter asy­lum ac­tion, ‘It’s about re­solve, and God, not Trump’

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By AL­FREDO COR­CHADO Bor­der­mex­ico Cor­re­spon­dent acor­chado@dal­las­news.com

MEX­ICO CITY — Some 1,500 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans left this city Fri­day to con­tinue their un­cer­tain jour­ney to the U.S. de­spite mea­sures an­nounced by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that could limit their abil­ity to seek asy­lum.

Many said they were headed for Ti­juana. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Edwin Edgardo Her­nan­dez and a group of a dozen or so, qui­etly plot­ted pos­si­ble routes to the Texas bor­der.

Her­nan­dez has grand plans of re­unit­ing with his brother in Dal­las. But, for now, he said At­lanta beck­ons with a big­ger sense of ur­gency: Jobs. Weeks ago, his for­mer boss sent word to

his com­mu­nity via re­cruiters that con­struc­tion jobs await him and oth­ers to build stores like Wal­marts and Home De­pots — the kind of con­struc­tion work he once did here in the U.S., the very work that once helped him earn enough money to build a home back in Hon­duras.

“I’m told the econ­omy is very good again,” he said. “I know from past ex­pe­ri­ence that when there are jobs there will be a way to get in. It’s about re­solve, and God, not Trump.”

Econ­o­mists say the U.S. job mar­ket is in need of hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers, many in the kinds of low­pay­ing jobs that im­mi­grants — au­tho­rized or not — of­ten fill. Mean­while, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump con­tin­ues to en­act strin­gent new poli­cies de­signed to get a stran­gle­hold on im­mi­gra­tion — au­tho­rized or not.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies have paid off: Over­all, about 51,000 mi­grants were caught at the U.s.­mex­ico bor­der in Oc­to­ber, com­pared with about 41,500 mi­grants in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion statis­tics re­leased late Fri­day.

The num­ber of im­mi­grants trav­el­ing in fam­i­lies who were ap­pre­hended hit a new record. In Oc­to­ber, about 23,000 per­sons trav­el­ing in a fam­ily were ap­pre­hended. With chil­dren trav­el­ing alone, they to­gether made up 56 per­cent of all ap­pre­hen­sions in Oc­to­ber.

The in­crease un­doubt­edly fu­els some of the ran­cor against im­mi­grants and asy­lum­seek­ers now com­ing from the White House.

While much of the at­ten­tion about the lat­est mi­gra­tion from Cen­tral Amer­ica is cen­tered around the right to seek asy­lum, the boom­ing U.S. econ­omy is never far away from the minds of those who have been camp­ing out in­side a sports sta­dium near Mex­ico City’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

The sprawl­ing sports com­plex has been turned into mas­sive tent ci­ties, spread through­out the vast com­pound — in­clud­ing among the bleach­ers — that’s usu­ally used for events from car rac­ing to con­certs.

The Mex­ico City gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing as many as 18,000 meals a day, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties. Vol­un­teers pro­vide ev­ery­thing from free hair­cuts, vac­ci­na­tions and den­tal check­ups, a ta­ble to recharge cell­phones and one of the most of prized do­na­tions: a free pair of sturdy shoes for the long walk ahead, away from the un­cer­tainty in their home­land, to what they be­lieve is a bet­ter life north.

“There are lots of rea­sons peo­ple want to leave Cen­tral Amer­ica, in­clud­ing vi­o­lence and poverty,” said An­drew Selee, pres­i­dent of the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute. “But prospects of jobs at a time of eco­nomic growth in the United States may also be at­tract­ing peo­ple to at­tempt the jour­ney north.”

In in­ter­views, many in the group pointed not just to the vi­o­lence they face back home, but to the roar­ing U.S. econ­omy that’s his­tor­i­cally served as a mag­net for mil­lions of work­ers from across Mex­ico and Latin Amer­ica. With mi­gra­tion from Mex­ico at an all­time low, and U.S. un­em­ploy­ment at 3.7 per­cent, the pull to head north is par­tic­u­larly strong on mi­grants like Her­nan­dez, and a half­dozen men, all rel­a­tives, headed for Dal­las. All said they have rel­a­tives and friends who serve as in­for­mal re­cruiters, urg­ing them to leave Cen­tral Amer­ica and head north for work.

“There’s no rea­son to go any­where but Dal­las,” said Ed­uardo Castillo, a farmer hard hit by drought and ex­tor­tions and trav­el­ing with cousins and un­cles. “All of Hon­duras is in Dal­las,” he said, not­ing that it seems like his home­town of La Ceiba on the north­ern coast of Hon­duras has emp­tied over the years as peo­ple head to places like North Texas.

Some trav­eled alone, but then with the car­a­van, bond­ing with oth­ers along the way. They echoed a com­mon theme: The rea­sons for leav­ing for the U.S. aren’t just black and white, like vi­o­lence or poverty vs. the safety of the U.S. Un­der­stand­ing the gray area is fun­da­men­tal.

“Vi­o­lence, lack of op­por­tu­nity, it’s all the same thing,” said Bar­tolo Fuentes, a for­mer Hon­duran leg­is­la­tor and hu­man rights ac­tivist, who’s closely fol­low­ing the car­a­van. “All want and need to work, ex­cept, ob­vi­ously, the chil­dren. There’s hypocrisy in the United States. Mil­lions of poor Euro­peans mi­grated to the United States and many did so with­out doc­u­ments for jobs. Why not Cen­tral Amer­i­cans?”

To make his point, Fuentes took out his cell­phone and showed an­nounce­ment of a new car­a­van leav­ing Hon­duras Jan. 15, conveniently af­ter the holi­ days.

“This isn’t go­ing to end to­mor­row,” he said. “Th­ese peo­ple are not ter­ror­ists. They’re hard­work­ing peo­ple des­per­ate for a job.”

As of Fri­day, about 4,500 im­mi­grants were camped out at the sta­dium. More peo­ple were plan­ning on set­ting out on foot Sat­ur­day and through­out the week­end on their way north. Along the way they planned to stop in some of Mex­ico’s thriv­ing ci­ties, like Quere­taro. For those headed for Ti­juana, and many of them are, they plan to stop in Guadala­jara. Many may end up re­main­ing there.

Those headed for Texas, in smaller num­bers, plan on seek­ing op­por­tu­nity in ci­ties near the Texas bor­der, from Torreon, Chi­huahua City, San Luis Po­tosi, Saltillo and Mon­ter­rey. They’ve no idea when they’ ll reach the U.S.

Dur­ing the in­ter­views, many said re­cruiters from some Mex­i­can com­pa­nies had stopped by their tents to tell them about pos­si­ble jobs. Other Cen­tral Amer­i­cans said U.S. ci­ties that were hard hit by hur­ri­canes, or with a boom­ing con­struc­tion in­dus­try, in­clud­ing North Texas, are key draws.

Jorge Al­berto Al­varado worked to re­build New Or­leans af­ter Ka­t­rina. He now sees op­por­tu­nity in South Carolina and North Carolina. A rel­a­tive also told him about jobs in Ten­nessee.

“I just want to pro­vide for my grand­chil­dren,” said Al­varado, break­ing into tears.

Juan Car­los Rivera, 26, of Copan, Hon­duras, sat in a cor­ner of the com­plex, shirt­less. He’s been on the road for a month and re­called how and why he de­cided to join the car­a­van. He first heard about it as he and his wife, a prekinder­garten teacher, watched the nightly TV news­cast.

Both had been talk­ing about leav­ing Hon­duras. Rivera owned a bar­ber­shop and was be­ing ex­torted by a gang. He had to pay them 10 per­cent of all his monthly earn­ings, or the equiv­a­lent of about $200. His wife had been as­saulted on her way to work. They pon­dered the idea of tak­ing their daugh­ter and seek­ing po­lit­i­cal asy­lum. But just the mere idea of be­ing sep­a­rated from their daugh­ter made the con­ver­sa­tion short, a non­starter, he said.

As they watched TV about the lat­est car­a­van, both perked up. Rivera im­me­di­ately called his un­cle Wil­fredo in Dal­las who told him about a con­struc­tion job. An­other cousin in Mi­ami told him about a roofing job. A car­a­van meant not pay­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to a smug­gler. Plus, there was safety in num­bers. He and wife talked into the night. By morn­ing, his wife and daugh­ter left their town to move else­where, away from im­mi­nent dan­ger. Rivera took a bus and headed for Gu­atemala where he met the car­a­van.

Now cooped up in­side the sta­dium while wait­ing for his group to head out, and with asy­lum a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity, he pulled out a pic­ture of his wife and daugh­ter and grew tearyeyed. Rivera looked at his dwin­dling op­tions, and grew more de­ter­mined. If he could talk to Trump, or U.S. leg­is­la­tors, the Amer­i­can pub­lic, he said he would of­fer a sug­ges­tion: Ei­ther eco­nomic devel­op­ment for his re­gion, or a guest worker pro­gram, not very dif­fer­ent from the one the U.S. and Mex­ico once agreed on in times when the U.S. econ­omy boomed. He doesn’t want to live per­ma­nently in the U.S., he said. He just works to sus­tain his fam­ily.

Staff writer Dianne Solís in Dal­las con­tributed to this re­port.

Ro­drigo Abd/the As­so­ci­ated Press

A Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grant by­passed a sub­way turn­stile af­ter leav­ing the tem­po­rary shel­ter at a sports com­plex in Mex­ico City on Fri­day.

Al­fredo Cor­chado/ Staff

Edwin Edgardo Her­nan­dez of Hon­duras would like to re­unite with his brother in Dal­las, but he has heard there are jobs in At­lanta.

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