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Why U.S.-bound ‘caravans’ of Central American migrants are getting Trump’s attention

President Trump said Mexico needed to help secure the U.S. border after tweeting there would be "no more DACA deal" and threatening to "stop" NAFTA on April 1. (Video: The Washington Post)

In a three-tweet salvo Sunday morning, Trump decried recent struggles with congressional Democrats to reach a deal that would legalize the status of millions of “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

“Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release,” Trump said in his first tweet. “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”

DACA refers to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump ended in the fall. The program had allowed dreamers to live in the country without fear of deportation.

Trump, a self-proclaimed “Fox & Friends” fan, appears to have fired off the tweets in response to a segment on the program in the morning (at least the National Border Patrol Council sees a connection, it claimed in a post afterward).

Why are they moving in a caravan?

The Fox News opinion segment was in response to a BuzzFeed report on Friday that more than 1,000 Central Americans, primarily from Honduras, were trekking up through Mexico to the U.S. border on a nearly month-long trip that began March 25. These migrants are looking to seek asylum from criminal elements back home or slip into the United States undetected.

Marching in a large group is expected to blunt the efforts of criminal gangs and cartels known to isolate and later rob immigrants, many of whom bring large sums of money to make the long journey north through Mexico. The caravan organizers, Pueblos Sin Fronteras, appeared to have concluded that it is safer for these people to travel together. (Pueblos Sin Fronteras translates to “People Without Borders,” but the group that organized the caravan is not the same as the Washington-based nonprofit People Without Borders.)

Trump keeps calling the Southern border ‘very dangerous.’ It is — but not for Americans.

That trip can be deadly as people find their way along various routes that go directly north to Texas, northwest to Arizona or along the coast to California.

Just about every route is more than 1,000 miles long and is canvassed by robbers and corrupt police who shake down the migrants, who have little legal recourse. A network of commercial locomotives is veined throughout Mexico in a 1,450-mile cannonball run. Migrants ride on top of the trains, occasionally falling off and breaking bones or suffering severe dehydration.

A caravan of Central American migrants is expected to end its journey in Mexico City rather than pushing north to the U.S. border, organizers said on April 4. (Video: Melissa Macaya, Rusvel Rasgado/The Washington Post)

Members of the caravan said they would attempt to ride the trains, but in 2014, more guards and trains moving faster through stations made it more difficult for migrants to catch rides.

Migrants have many names for the trains, such as “el tren de los desconocidos” (the train of the unknowns) and “el tren de la muerte” (the train of death).

But its most common name is “la bestia”: the beast.

What is Mexico doing about the flow of migrants?

“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!” Trump said in his second tweet.

Mexico is doing something — with the help of the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid flow to Mexico every year, including funds for strengthening its border with Guatemala, where migrants generally cross.

Trump threatens to ‘stop’ NAFTA if Mexico doesn’t better secure border

Billions in additional spending authorized by President Barack Obama in 2014 were prompted by thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving on the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly Central Americans fleeing horrific crime waves and economic crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. About 300,000 migrants were detained by Mexican authorities in the next two years.

The caravan began in Tapachula, BuzzFeed reported, nestled just on the other side of the border, and no authorities in Mexico appear to have stopped it as of Friday.

What is Trump doing about it?

Trump’s proposals to reduce aid to Mexico would raise the possibility that the country would be less able to stem flows of migrants and drugs coming across its border.

The president has been caught in a contradiction of policy on the border before.

The budget for the U.S. Coast Guard stayed flat in 2018 despite spending increases across the Pentagon (the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security). But the service seizes three times as much cocaine moving by sea as what U.S. agencies intercept at border checkpoints, putting a dent into Trump’s argument that a border wall would dry up the supply of hard drugs in the United States.

Trump has been more focused on DACA and the border wall lately. He has suggested that the program may be the reason the caravan has massed.

“These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!” Trump said in a tweet.

He later said outside a church before Easter services Sunday: “A lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA. They had a great chance. The Democrats blew it.”

But that description of DACA appears to misrepresent the program’s intent, which was to provide protection for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children years ago. Anyone arriving after June 2012 wouldn’t qualify for DACA, including those in the caravan. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

“I asked some of the migrants on the caravan what they thought about Trump saying they were going to the US for DACA,” BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores tweeted Sunday. “Some laughed and others said they thought (correctly) they wouldn’t qualify.”

Flores reported Friday afternoon that the caravan had gone more than 200 miles northwest in less than a week, crossing into the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

This post has been updated.

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