Mexico welcomed migrant caravan, in a change of policy
The caravan of Central Americans that has been making its way from Honduras toward the United States border moved on fromMexico City in the predawn chill of Saturday, as migrants strapped on backpacks, rolled up blankets and hoisted sleeping children into their arms to begin the next leg of their journey.
For much of the past week, the giant capital, which prides itself on being a sanctuary for refugees, turned an athletic stadium into a camp for some 5,000 migrants and offered them every type of city service.
Ever since the caravan crossed into Mexico three weeks ago, the country has faced a reckoning over the way it treats Central American migrants. Contradictory impulses are in play.
In Mexico City this week, doctors and dentists were on hand for free checkups, and children spent the mornings drawing and coloring.
It wasn’t always this way. For decades, successive administrations used strong enforcement measures to control Mexico’s borders. The migrants tried to travel out of the sight of authorities.
Now, Mexico City’s embrace of the caravan has thrown an opposing idea into sharp relief, an acknowledgment that the country’s asylum laws require the government to protect migrants, who are vulnerable to criminal gangs.
“There is a constant back-and-forth,” said Stephanie Leutert, who studies Central American migration at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “We want to stop people – and we want to make sure they are safe,” she said, summarizing the tension in the Mexican government’s approach.
The migrants arrived in aMexico hanging in political limbo. The outgoing government of Enrique Peña Nieto is set to hand over power Dec. 1 to a new leftist government. For years, first during the Obama administration and then after President Donald Trump took office, Peña Nieto’s government had been acting as a junior partner of the United States in blocking the migrants’ passage north.
President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised a different approach.
He has pledged to grant temporary work visas to Central American migrants, declaring that nobody should be forced to migrate, and seems unlikely to stand in the way of those who choose to test their luck by traveling to the U.S. border.
Central American migrants resume their journey north Saturday after leaving the temporary shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City. Thousands of Central American migrants were back on the move toward the U.S. border Saturday, after dedicated Mexico City metro trains whisked them to the outskirts of the capital and drivers began offering rides north.