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13 Nov 2018 18:21
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  •   Home > News > International

    Migrant caravan reaches Mexico City in its quest for Donald Trump's America

    Donald Trump has said he'll deploy soldiers at the border to meet them, but for Hilda and the 5000-strong caravan of migrants from Central America, there's no turning back.


    Hilda has travelled thousands of miles and she has a message for Donald Trump.

    In early October, when she heard that hundreds were gathering to leave Honduras en masse, Hilda decided the time was right to flee with them.

    Constant warfare between drug cartels made everyday life in San Pedro Sula in the country's north a gamble, and she was worried about the effect on her 8-month-old son, Cleberson.

    So with her baby, her brother and her sister-in-law, she set off with hundreds of others on the long journey on foot, to try their luck at finding safety and security in the United States.

    "In Honduras we have nothing — me and my family," Hilda says.

    "We don't have a house to live in or land to work. This is why we migrate."

    They're not expecting a warm welcome. The US President has said he will deploy 5,200 National Guard troops. There have also been reports of armed anti-migrant militias roaming the south-western border.

    But between now and when the caravan arrives at the US border, Hilda is hopeful something will change. Speaking from a stadium in Mexico City, where she's taken shelter with up to 5,000 other migrants, she hopes Mr Trump changes his mind.

    "I hope that God touches Trump's heart," she says.

    "We are not the people that he thinks we are. We just want to enter the US and work hard for our children."

    Danger on the horizon

    The migrants arrived in Mexico City on the eve of the critical midterm elections in the US.

    Mr Trump campaigned on it ahead of the vote, labelling the caravan "an invasion of our country" and sent troops to the border to deter them.

    The feeling at Jesus Martinez "Palillo" Stadium in the city's west is one of tranquillity and cheerfulness, despite the extremely basic conditions in which the migrants are travelling and the threat of more danger on the horizon.

    The reception in Mexico has been much warmer than what's expected at the US border.

    Throughout the journey, local governments, civil society groups and town residents have donated food, clothing, lodging and transport.

    In a poll released by the Mitofsky Group this week, 51 per cent of respondents were supportive of migrants, while a third thought they should be pressured to return.

    Gangs, violence and no rain

    Violence, poverty and unemployment form an unholy trinity in Honduras. It's a situation citizens have been fleeing in large numbers for several years now.

    The main causes are gang power and gang warfare, political corruption, and persistent drought. Indeed, Honduras is one of the regions most affected by climate change. This year's "rainy season" was dry, meaning most farmers were not able to yield an annual harvest.

    The migrant caravan quickly grew into the thousands and gained members from across Central America — El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Many are fleeing direct threats from the violent gangs that terrorise Central America and are seeking asylum in Mexico or the US.

    Others see safety in numbers and a chance to move away from poverty without paying thousands to a people smuggler.

    Francis Acosta, a jolly, entrepreneurial man in his 30s, is taking a break from spruiking cigarettes for sale or barter to fellow travellers.

    He says he decided to join the caravan to find employment in the US that would pay enough to support his family at home.

    He shows off the tattoo dedicated to his daughter, Dariela, on his neck. She is one of the four children he has left behind in Honduras, in search of an income that might support them in a country in which 80 per cent of workers earn below the minimum wage — about $350 a month.

    "I'm worried for my children, with all the trouble in Honduras," he says. "But if I can earn more money it will help keep them safe."

    On the caravan trail Acosta has met Velkis, a fellow Honduran who is travelling with her 4-year-old daughter, Dana.

    Velkis and Dana have walked with the caravan from their home near the Guatemalan border — a journey of 22 days, mostly on foot.

    Velkis is tired from the journey and has caught a cold. Her lively daughter runs around yelling "hello", proud that she knows a word in English.

    "I'm a single mother," says Velkis. "Both my parents are dead. There's no work at home. I'll do any kind of work there [in the US], I don't mind."

    She has left another child behind in Honduras. "I need to get to the US so my family can have a future."

    Like many on the caravan, Velkis hadn't heard of Mr Trump's plans for their arrival at the US border. But she's buoyed by the friendship and support she's found in the caravan, and from locals met along the way.

    She is determined to keep moving forward. "For my family," she repeats as her daughter jumps up on her back, giggling and squealing.

    "For our future."

    Finding a place in Mexico

    Others, however, have had a change of heart. Henry Vargas Portillo has traded his American dream for a plan to settle in Mexico.

    The 38-year-old from Guatemala joined the caravan with the plan of crossing the US border, but the news of the Army meeting them there he decided it was a doomed enterprise.

    "It's not logical to struggle for a dream that's not going to become a reality," he says, his hands grasping the lapels of his vest.

    "Whenever I see the news from the US, the people seem crazy.

    "Here in Mexico the people have behaved so well towards us. They've given us something to eat and a place to sleep, and many people have donated money."

    Portillo's leaving the caravan in Mexico City.

    He's heard there is construction working going in the city, plus the Mexican government is offering work rights and assistance to find work.

    He is not the only one planning to stay in Mexico.

    Since the caravan broached the Mexican border with Guatemala, the Federal Government has received 3,230 applications for asylum from the group.

    While the applications are being decided by the national refugee commission, Mexico has granted work rights to around 2,600 Central Americans, many of whom are likely to stay.

    'Here families stay together'

    In a press conference on Sunday, incoming Mexico City government secretary Rosa Icela Rodriguez said migrant families would not be separated.

    "We are not going to do as they do in other countries. Here families should stay together," Ms Rodriguez said, in a pointed reference to the Trump administration's policy of separating asylum seeker children from their parents at the US border.

    But it's not been easy travelling.

    State and Federal Governments have taken a tougher line, with the Federal Government taking extreme measures in October to deter migrants from crossing Guatemala's border into Mexico.

    They were met with Mexican soldiers brandishing riot shields and tear gas, and 26-year-old Henry Diaz from Honduras was fatally shot in the head with a rubber bullet.

    And they haven't escaped Mexico's cartel violence. Parts of the caravan's route are notorious for cartel warfare and kidnappings.

    Two trucks carrying about 100 migrants in the state of Veracruz have gone missing, and there are fears for their lives given the prevalent violence in this area.

    In the face of such risks, thousands have marched on, passing through the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz to arrive in Mexico City this week.

    The caravan is yet to decide on the next stop for those who plan to continue walking to the US border.

    It is likely though that they will attempt to cross in Tijuana on the opposite side of San Diego. It is currently considered to be a safer bet than Matamoros across from Brownsville, Texas, where drug cartels are particularly active.

    A decision to avoid the Matamoros crossing would have extra salience in light of the re-election of notoriously anti-immigration Republican politician Ted Cruz as Senator for Texas.

    Wherever the caravan ends up crossing, Hilda, Valkis, and Francis intend to be there — for the sake of Cleberson, Dana and Dariela.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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