Migrants carry on in face of policies
After asylum action, ‘It’s about resolve, and God, not Trump’
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.
A Central American migrant bypassed a subway turnstile after leaving the temporary shelter at a sports complex in Mexico City on Friday.
Edwin Edgardo Hernandez of Honduras would like to reunite with his brother in Dallas, but he has heard there are jobs in Atlanta.