MEXICO CITY — As the first of the Central American migrants neared crossing the U.S. border last week, another group — much larger, but just as hopeful — gathered here on a field muddy soccer fields, preparing for what they believe to be the final leg of a journey to a new and better life.
Whether any of them will actually achieve their ultimate goal remains a grave doubt, potentially blocked by a US government that shows little desire to grant them asylum in the country. President Donald Trump has called the migrants an “invasion” and pledged to deny them entry into the United States In the run-up to this year’s midterm elections, Trump and other top officials administration united in an overtly political campaign to scare voters with false warnings that these asylum seekers posed a serious, but undefined, threat to the United States.
Since midterm, however, Trump has remained largely silent on these migrants, and his emotional assertions that the caravan of mostly women and children posed a threat to the country’s economy and security have been dropped. Nevertheless, on the orders of the president, thousands of American soldiers stand along the border, waiting and watching for migrants.
About 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people reached the US border at Tiajuana, Mexico on Wednesday, seeking asylum to enter the United States. The LGBTQ contingent, the first to actually seek entry to the United States, was a small slice of the hundreds who traveled with the immigrant caravan that began in mid-October. Since then, a series of similar caravans have organized themselves and embarked on their own treks north.
The group that is currently gathered in Mexico City is actually the second wave of immigrants to gather at the football stadium, which was set up by city authorities to avoid having large gatherings of people in public spaces. A previous group of around 4,500 migrants, who arrived in the city on November 2, were housed at the stadium in makeshift tents that provided security and a place for human rights activists to provide food, clothing and medical care as they passed through town.
Although the group is mostly peaceful, safety is a big concern for both residents and migrants. Armed police patrol the stadium grounds, chasing anyone without a pass or legitimate trade with the immigrants in the caravan.
Andrea Villaseñor, project director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Mexico, said in an interview that her office counsels hundreds of Central American immigrants who flee almost daily to Mexico City. But the latest wave, including the thousands of caravans, is relatively new and signals growing desperation in Central America.
But as the immigrant population enters Mexico, she said, the migrants face strong opposition from residents of border towns in the north of that country, especially among some of the poorest residents of the country. region. “People in Mexico get low wages,” she said, adding that workers earning double the minimum wage often still can’t afford to live in the city. “They see the help given to some migrants and they ask ‘What about me?'”
Security concerns escalated with media reports of sporadic violence directed at migrants who made their way to Tijauana. Observers reported pushing, shoving and throwing rocks at the migrants by around 300 locals 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 in a temporary settlement.
Meanwhile, the roughly 3,000 weary and scruffy migrants gathered inside Mexico City’s Magdalena Mixuca stadium, in the heart of this bustling metropolis, pose little or no danger to anyone. In repeated conversations, nearly every man, woman and child has shared with ThinkProgress a personal horror story that is more vivid and believable than the fanciful portrayals US officials have promulgated.
When approached, one by one, the migrants offered similar – but unique – explanations of why they left their homes in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American states. struggling for a dangerous and uncertain march to the US border.
Here is a sampling of their stories, which have been translated into English. Their names have been changed for the protection of migrants and their families.
She sat alone, sadly on the steps of the stadium. Her small, brown, watery face was buried in tiny fingers as sunburned as the rest of her body. At first, she didn’t look up when approached, but spoke quietly about leaving her three children in Honduras when she left for the United States with only the clothes on her back:
Where I live, we have no authority. The authorities are basically the same people who run the city. So what’s happening is in the situation I’m in is they’re asking 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 trip to give my three children a better life.
So right now we’re asking the US government to support us. We left our children, in my case. We ask for a chance to give them a better life. All I ask is that they allow us to pass and be able to go to work. That’s all we ask. Thanks.
Kevin met Felix and Anna, two other migrants from El Salvador, while traveling together. As teenagers, surrounded by other migrants of all ages, they bonded in a society of fortune and mutual aid, promising to help each other complete the journey. Unity is strength, they said.
My name is Kevin. I’m 19. I come from El Salvador.
I left my country because of the violence. I am fleeing my country in search of a better opportunity and to help my family financially. My journey has been difficult. I left on October 31st but they wouldn’t let me in at the Mexican border as the only way through was to cross the rivers so they had to walk for 10 hours and take transportation as we could get it. It was very hot. Sometimes it was raining. People were getting sick. People including myself had blisters on my feet until someone from the church in Veracruz could help us get to where we are here now.
So what message I would have for people in the United States and the government is to please understand our journey and why we are traveling and to understand what we are going through.
David uprooted his entire family, his wife Sarai and his 7-year-old son, Rafael, because they feared for their lives in Honduras. His goal is to protect this family, as best he can:
I come from Honduras. And in my case, I’m 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’m doing this trip because I don’t have a job where I come from and I’m also fleeing violence. All I ask is to be able to move around freely and go to San Luis Potosi.
My family has been traveling for 14-15 days. My family came here to the stadium. We are fine. We haven’t been sick, but we are worried about the road ahead.