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Seven things you should know about the migrant 'caravan' heading for the U.S.

Opponents of the Honduran government say that the caravan is a response to violence and extreme poverty, but the country's president claims it's part of a campaign to destabilize the country.
18 Oct 2018 – 06:52 PM EDT
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On October 13, a group of Honduran migrants, including families with small children, began a "caravan" headed north, to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States fleeing extreme poverty and violence.

This is the second caravan so far in 2018. Both became a global issue because of the threats launched against him by President Donald Trump, who had branded those involved as opportunists and criminals seeking to illegally enter the United States with the help of human traffickers, or 'coyotes.'

He issued his latest attack on Thursday on his Twitter account, descriving the caravan as "an assault on our country."

In a second tweet, the president threatened to close the southernm border:

So, what is the caravan all about, and why is trump so fearful of it? If, as appears to be the case, it turns into a mass exodus of thousands, including parents with children, why are so many families making the decision to leave everything in search of new opportunities, despite the risks.

1./ When did the second caravan appear?

It started in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on October 13. But there are contradictory versions regarding the spontaneity of the movement. While some insist that the idea was sparked when people gathered to celebrate the annual Day of Race (Dia de la Raza), social media posts reveal that, since at least on October 5, a so-called "Migrant March" was being called for under the motto "We are not leaving because we want to: we are being expelled by violence and poverty."

Bartolo Fuentes, an ex-deputy of the opposition Libre Party who defines himself as an independent journalist, is one of the coordinators of the caravan. He told Univision that the call for the march was made "through social media ads.

2./ Political manipulation?

Fuentes says the movement is spontaneous and that people are fleeing because of a lack of job opportunities in Honduras. "People flee because they do not have work and ther level of violence is unsustainable," he says.

Congressman Luis Redondo, of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC), told Univision Noticias that the caravan arose from "hunger", "criminal violence" in the country and "corruption and impunity."

"Before they traveled separately, but now they have learned to survive by grouping together for the entire journey to avrt becoming victims of rape and murder," he added.

Salvador Nasralla, former presidential candidate and opponent of President Juan Hernandez, said on Twitter: "Hondurans in extreme poverty travel to the US in caravan on foot and hailing rides to escape hunger due to a level of unemployment unprecedented in Honduras' history."

In turn, Moisés Ulloa, a political analyst, said: "The best interest of the United States must be to seek an immediate and peaceful consensus between the political forces that will remove Juan Hernández from power and allow the country to return to a democratic state with social peace. This is a pressure cooker about to explode. "

President Hernández asked the migrants "not to lend themselves to that political game," claiming their objective is to destabilize their government. He also said that "It is well known that there are groups interested in destabilizing the country, but I think they have gone over the limit by using human beings, children, the elderly, as a banner of their struggle, without and concern for putting the lives of these compatriots at risk."

3./ What does the caravan consist of?

The October 13 march started with hundreds of people, many of them families with children. Some say there were 700, but Fuentes says it was more than 1,000. The figures changed as the days went by. On Tuesday, when the caravan raeched the border with Guatemala, some spoke of 4,000.

According to different media accounts, other groups migrants from Guatemala and El Salvador also joined the caravan seeking greater security, spread out along the highways.

When the main caravan reached Guatemala City, media reports said some migrants had gone ahead on buses and trucks and were already at the border with Mexico at Tapachula.

According to the Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala, 5,000 food rations were served to the migrant caravan in the town of Chiquimula and another 1,000 people were served in the Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City. Also on Wednesday, approximately 4,500 packed Catholic Church shelters in Guatemala City.

4./ Why travel with children?

"It's a tragedy in which several factors combine," says Jaime Barrón, an immigration attorney in Dallas, Texas. "Among them are ignorance of the law, urban myths, lies and exploitation by human traffickers," he added.

"Some think that the United States will not stop them because they come with children, while others tell them that the United States does not deport children and that is why they have a chance to stay. But the truth is that the reality is different, in some cases painful," he warns.

5./ Is it true that the US does not deport children?

The TVPRA Act of 2008 (William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act) prohibits the government from deporting minors who are not from bordering countries (Mexico or Canada) who are detained at the border and stipulates that their future in the country must be decided by an immigration judge.

"But that does not mean they cannot be deported," says Barrón. "This government has toughened the policy," he adds, referring to the Trump administration's practice of 'zero tolerance' and use of criminal charges to separate parents from their children. Between May and June more than 2,600 children were separated from their parents.

6./ Does the US give them work permits?

Between 2014 and 2016, the government processed thousands of asylum cases of Central American immigrants fleeing poverty and violence. Many of them were released due to lack of space and in compliance with the 2008 law and the Flores Judicial Agreement of 1997, which prohibits the detention of minors, and commits them to appear before hearings in immigration courts.

Due to the accumulation of cases in the immigration courts (more than 740,000 at the end of July), the government, for humanitarian reasons, granted work permits to immigrants whose cases take more than 180 days due to the court delays, which in some cases can stretch two or three years.

"This wait has been used by traffickers to deceive people and tell them that if they take children with them they will be given U.S. work permits," warns Barrón.

Under the new rules of the Trump government, the scenario on the border changed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions eliminated domestic and gang violence as a cause for asylum, increased the requirements for asylum seekers and granted extra powers to immigration officials to deny cases and expedite deportations.

7./ Will Mexico close its border to the caravan?

On October 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico said in recognized the human rights of migrants under international law, as well as their right to free movement and refugee status. But it warned that any person carrying proper travel documents and a visa, "may enter the country and move with full freedom in it for the duration of the visa."

For his part, president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said he will grant work visas to Central Americans seeking jobs.