In Sight

The road to asylum: A look inside the migrant caravans of 2018

This year, thousands of Central American migrants have arrived at the U.S. border, with no certainty about what to do next.

Many say they fled violence and poverty to travel more than 2,500 miles in caravans across Mexico. When they reached the border, they heard conflicting information about the asylum process and frequent news about President Trump’s proposed wall and his opposition to their arrival.

Amid the confusion, migrants have had to decide whether to wait, to turn back or to cross illegally — often with children in tow.

Children in the caravan are faced with the same dangers as their parents. One night, as dozens of fellow migrants clambered into the back of a large truck to travel north in southern Mexico, Keila just watched. It was after 3 a.m. and she was holding her daughters, Camila, 4, and Samantha, 2. Fearing they might be crushed in the back of the truck, she decided to walk.

Keila did not have a stroller, so she kept the toddler in her arms and set Camila down to walk, too. But after several miles, Camila stopped in the middle of the road and fell to her knees, too exhausted to go on. So Keila picked both of her daughters up and carried them along the dark highway until the sun rose.

The largest caravan this year had approximately 7,500 Central American migrants. To travel about 30 miles a day, individuals and families had to be creative about how they got to the next town.

Often, toddlers held on to the sides of tanker trucks, and locals allowed entire families to rest in the beds of pickup trucks. On many days, however, they simply walked. Their feet were bloodied and bandaged, but they were determined to continue north.

Migrants from one caravan arrived at the border crossing in Tijuana and were met with squalid conditions in a makeshift camp. They got word they had to take a number and wait. Illness was rampant, especially among children. Many families grew impatient and crossed the border illegally to ask for asylum. Thousands stayed in Mexico, hoping they would get permission to cross legally.

For the few allowed through a port of entry into the United States, the longest and most uncertain part of their journey – the asylum process – had just begun.

At the close of 2018, the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico had only intensified. The federal government shut down after President Trump made clear he would not sign a spending bill that did not include billions for construction of a border wall. Two migrant children died while in U.S. custody. And the Trump administration planned to require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico during the long application process, a move that advocates say will lead to disaster.