Mi­grants trust Trump will hear their sto­ries, let them in

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - STEPHANIE NOLEN With a re­port from Karen Cota

Many car­a­van trav­ellers are ig­no­rant of U.S. law – and their chances of cross­ing the bor­der

Veron­ica Gar­cia has a straight­for­ward plan: She is go­ing to walk, with her small daugh­ters, 2,900 kilo­me­tres dead north to the bor­der be­tween the United States and Mex­ico. And then she is go­ing to ex­plain, to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or whomever else she finds there wait­ing for her, how hard their lives were in Hon­duras − how she has raised five kids on her own, af­ter their fa­ther aban­doned them; how she works long, long hours at a churro stand but can’t pay the rent; how her older girls dream of col­lege but she could never af­ford to send them; how her coun­try gets more dan­ger­ous, more ex­pen­sive, more hope­less, all the time.

“I’m sure, when he hears, he will take pity on us,” said Ms. Gar­cia, a sturdy 38-year-old with long dark hair and sun-dark­ened patches on her cheeks. “It will touch his heart. And he will let us in, and I can work, and my daugh­ters can study.”

Among most of the 5,500 or so mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica who ar­rived here in the Mex­i­can cap­i­tal this past week, this is what counts as a plan. The mi­grant car­a­van that as­sem­bled in Hon­duras nearly a month ago has fu­elled fierce de­bate about mi­gra­tion and asy­lum in North Amer­ica, and at­tracted a moun­tain of me­dia at­ten­tion, but the trav­ellers them­selves are largely obliv­i­ous – and also al­most uni­formly ig­no­rant of the law, and of their chances of cross­ing the bor­der. Most are so poor, and so tired, and so des­per­ate for some­thing bet­ter, that it pre­cludes dwelling too much on the de­tails.

Mr. Trump is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der on Fri­day bar­ring any­one who en­ters into the United States any­where but at a bor­der cross­ing point from claim­ing asy­lum – an or­der that was im­me­di­ately chal­lenged in court by refugee-rights or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The car­a­van paused this week in Mex­ico City to al­low the trav­ellers time to rest and re­cu­per­ate. The cur­rent plan is for the mi­grants to set out for the bor­der cross­ing at Ti­juana; they have asked the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment to sup­ply buses to spare them sev­eral weeks’ walk, a re­quest that has been re­peat­edly de­nied.

But it isn’t just buses they lack. None of the gov­ern­ments through whose ter­ri­tory the mi­grants have passed be­fore this week made a con­certed ef­fort to pro­vide the mi­grants with ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about asy­lum or im­mi­gra­tion to the United States. The car­a­van as­sem­bled or­gan­i­cally in Hon­duras, where peo­ple such as Ms. Gar­cia heard about it on the tele­vi­sion news. The Hon­duran gov­ern­ment didn’t do a blitz on mi­gra­tion re­al­i­ties. Gu­atemala al­lowed them to tran­sit the coun­try un­hin­dered – and it is this bor­der-cross­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, a first for most of them, that has shaped much of the mi­grants’ per­cep­tion of what it will be like to go to the United States − but also with­out in­for­ma­tion.

Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties did not sys­tem­at­i­cally pro­vide in­for­ma­tion when the car­a­van surged over the bor­der into Chi­a­pas. And it is only here that vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions have mo­bi­lized to try to make more of the re­al­i­ties clear.

Mad­die Boyd, a le­gal in­tern from Cal­i­for­nia work­ing with Mex­ico’s In­sti­tute for Women in Mi­gra­tion as part of a team of bilin­gual vol­un­teers who set up camp at the sta­dium this week to try to ex­plain asy­lum law, said most of what they share seems brand new for mi­grants.

Her team has three crit­i­cal pieces of in­for­ma­tion for wouldbe asy­lum seek­ers: that they should as­sume they will be held in de­ten­tion for the du­ra­tion of the time it takes to process their claim (be­tween six months and two years, with the back­log grow­ing con­tin­u­ously); that par­ents could face be­ing sep­a­rated from chil­dren (a pol­icy that is cur­rently sus­pended but which many mi­grant ad­vo­cates ex­pect could be re­in­stated im­mi­nently); and the grounds and ev­i­dence re­quired to claim asy­lum. A per­son must be un­able or un­will­ing to re­turn to their home coun­try be­cause they have been per­se­cuted there in the past, or have a well-founded fear that they will be per­se­cuted if they go back. And that per­se­cu­tion must be based on one of five things: race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal opin­ion or mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group. The bur­den of proof re­quired for such a claim is ex­tremely high: Cur­rently, fewer than 10 per cent of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans are suc­cess­ful in mak­ing asy­lum claims in the United States.

“The part about the time in de­ten­tion, that they won’t be able to be work­ing to sup­port their fam­i­lies − that’s def­i­nitely a shock for peo­ple,” she said.

Ms. Boyd’s team also gives mi­grants in­for­ma­tion about stay­ing in Mex­ico and their asy­lum op­tions here. In­evitably, this new in­for­ma­tion leads some of the mi­grants to con­sider stay­ing – and also to ask about Canada. “There’s a ru­mour that maybe Canada will send a plane or some­thing, and just take peo­ple there,” Ms. Boyd said rue­fully.

Mex­ico’s Na­tional In­sti­tute for Mi­gra­tion re­ports that 3,200 mi­grants from this car­a­van ap­plied for asy­lum in Chi­a­pas, when they en­tered the coun­try; more may yet de­cide to stay as they re­ceive ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about the re­quire­ments for cross­ing into the United States.

Rosa Reyes, 28, heard about the car­a­van leav­ing the Hon­duran city of San Pe­dro Sula just a week af­ter her fam­ily got an ul­ti­ma­tum from the gang called Bar­rio 18. The gang de­manded a pay­ment of $325 − be­cause they had de­cided that Ms. Reyes and her hus­band, Alex, 27, were “pros­per­ing” from their curb­side veg­etable stand. That’s as much as they made in a month, she said. If they paid it, there would be no new clothes for their five chil­dren, no school books − they couldn’t pay the rent. But if they didn’t pay, they were clear on the con­se­quences. The car­a­van was a chance to travel north safely − a chance at a chance.

The trip has been hard − they push the two small­est kids in a dou­ble stroller, carry baby Haniel, and ca­jole the older two, 8 and 10, into walk­ing. Ms. Reyes said she didn’t know what would hap­pen at the bor­der, or how the process works, but rea­soned that she and her hus­band could demon­strate their will­ing­ness to work hard. “We will do any kind of job at all that they need, we can work and work,” she said. And that, she be­lieves, might just be enough.

TODD HEISLER/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mi­grants travel along a road to­ward San­ti­ago Nil­te­pec, Mex­ico, on Oct. 29. The mi­grant car­a­van paused this week in Mex­ico City to let the trav­ellers rest and re­cu­per­ate. Cur­rently, the plan is for the mi­grants to head for the Ti­juana bor­der cross­ing.

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