MEXICO CITY — As the first of the Central American migrants crept tantalizingly closer last week to crossing the U.S. border, another — much larger, yet equally hopeful — group assembled here on a muddy soccer field, preparing themselves for what they believe will be the final leg of a journey to a new and better life.
Whether any of them will actually achieve their ultimate goal remains in grave doubt, potentially stymied by a U.S. government that show little desire to allow them asylum in the country. President Donald Trump has referred to the migrants an “invasion” and vowed to refuse them entry into the U.S. During the run-up to this year’s midterm elections, Trump and other top administration officials united in an overtly political campaign to scare voters with dire and false warnings that these asylum seekers constituted some grave, yet undefined threat to the United States.
Since the midterms, however, Trump has been largely silent on these migrants, and his emotional claims that the caravan of mostly women and children posed a threat to the nation’s economy and security have fallen by the wayside. Nevertheless, at the president’s order, thousands of U.S. troops are standing by along the border, waiting and watching for the migrants.
On Wednesday, an estimated 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people reached the U.S. border at Tiajuana, Mexico, seeking asylum to cross into the United States. The LGBTQ contingent, the first to actually seek to enter the U.S., was a small slice of the hundreds who have been traveling with the immigrant caravan that began in mid-October. Since then, a series of similar caravans have organized and set out on their own treks northward.
The group that is presently assembled in Mexico City is actually the second wave of immigrants to gather at the soccer stadium, which was set up by municipal officials to avoid having large gatherings of people in public spaces. An earlier group of about 4,500 migrants, who arrived in the city on November 2, was housed at the stadium in makeshift tents that provided security and a place for human rights activists to provide food, clothing and medical attention as they pass through the city.
While the group is mostly peaceful, security is a big concern — both for residents and the migrants. Armed police patrol the stadium grounds, shooing away anyone without proper passes or legitimate business with the immigrants in the caravan.
Andrea Villaseñor, project director for the Jesuit Refugee Service Mexico, said in an interview that her office counsels hundreds of Central American immigrants who flee, almost daily, into Mexico City. But the latest wave, including the thousands in caravans, is relatively new, and a sign of growing desperation in Central America.
But as the immigrant population enters Mexico, she said, the migrants face strong opposition from residents of that nation’s northern border towns, especially among some of the region’s poorer residents. “In Mexico, people get low wages,” she said, adding that workers who earn double the miminum wage often still can’t afford to live in the city. “They see the assistance given to some of the migrants and they ask ‘What about me?'”
Security concerns escalated with media reports of sporadic violence directed at the migrants who made their way into Tijauana. Observers reported pushing, shoving, and rocks thrown at the migrants by about 300 area residents who were angry at their arrival and demanded they leave Playas de Tijuana, a fashionable neighborhood. After the three-hour standoff ended, residents cheered as the migrants left on a bus for shelter at a temporary facility.
Meanwhile, the estimated 3,000 foot-weary and bedraggled migrants assembled inside Mexico City’s Magdalena Mixuca stadium in the heart of this bustling metropolis pose little to no danger to anyone. In repeated conversations, nearly every man, woman and child shared with ThinkProgress a personal horror story more vivid and credible than the fanciful depictions that U.S. officials have promulgated.
When approached, one by one, migrants offered similar — but unique — explanations for why they left homes in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other troubled Central American states for a dangerous and uncertain trek toward the U.S. border.
Here are a sampling of their stories, which were translated into English. Their names have been changed for the sake of protecting the migrants and their familes.
She sat alone, forlornly on the steps of the stadium. Her small, brown and tear-traced face was buried in tiny fingers that were as sunburned as the rest of her body. At first, she didn’t look up when approached but talked softly about leaving her three children behind in Honduras when she set out for the U.S. with only the clothes on her back:
Where I live we have no authorities. The authorities are basically the same people who run the town. So what happens is in the situation I find myself is that they ask us to pay a ransom. They ask us to pay money. And when we don’t pay they start taking things away from us. So when they took everything I had, the last material things I had, I decided to make the travel so that I could give my three children a better life.
So at this moment we ask the U.S. government to support us. We have left our children, in my case. We are asking for a chance to give them a better life. All I ask is for them to allow us to get through and to be able to go to work. That is all we ask. Thank you.
Kevin met Felix and Anna, two other migrants from El Salvador, as they journeyed together. As teenagers, surrounded by other migrants of all ages, they bonded in a make-shift, mutual-aid society, promising to help each other complete the trip. Strength in numbers, they said.
My name is Kevin. I am 19-years-old. I am from El Salvador.
I left my country because of violence. I’m fleeing away from my country in search of a better opportunity and to help my family financially. My journey has been hard. I left on October 31 but they wouldn’t let me in at the Mexican border because the only way to come through was to go through the rivers, so they had to walk for 10 hour and take transportation however we could get it. It was very hot. Sometimes it would rain. People were getting sick. People, including myself, were getting blisters on our feet until someone from the church in Veracruz was able to help us get to where we are here now.
So what message I would have for the people in the United States and the government is to please understand our journey and why we’re traveling and to comprehend what we’re going through.
David uprooted his entire family, wife Sarai and 7-year-old son, Rafael, because they feared for their lives in Honduras. His goal is to protect this family, best that he can:
I come from Honduras. And in my case I am not going to the United States. I want to go to San Luis Potosi. I am traveling with my wife and child, my 7-year-old son, and what I want to do is be able to travel safely so I can get to San Luis Potosi.
I am making this trip because I have no work where I’m from and I am also fleeing the violence. All I ask for is to be able to move freely and to get to San Luis Potosi.
My family have been traveling for 14-15 days. My family have come here to the stadium. We are well. We haven’t been sick, but we are worried about the road ahead.