A bit over a week ago, a group of people left a city in the northern part of Honduras with the goal of reaching the United States. Since then, the migrants’ journey has gained international attention, thanks in part to the eagerness of President Trump and his allies to use their trip as a way of underscoring the United States' immigration policies.
The coverage of the trek is often breathless, with Trump himself implying it has some nefarious origin and the ranks of migrants taking part in it include criminals and terrorists. The perception is conveyed that a flood of people is rapidly approaching the U.S. border with Mexico.
It is not.
Over the weekend, media coverage focused on migrants trying to cross a bridge between two countries — but it was not between Mexico and the United States. It was between Mexico and Guatemala. The caravan, mostly made up of people walking, had headed west through Guatemala before trying to enter Mexico, arriving at that border late last week. The caravan’s crossing place is at roughly Mexico’s southernmost point.
It is not clear precisely what route the caravan took, but it probably looked something like this (using Google Maps as a guide). The distance between the two points is about 400 miles, which Google estimates would take a little less than six days to cover on foot.
That estimate does not include rest stops, so it is clear the entire journey has not been undertaken on foot. The nature of the caravan is it is somewhat nebulous in form, with people joining and leaving the procession and some traveling by bus and truck while others trudge behind.
That the Google estimate generally matches the duration of the trip to date is useful, though, because it gives us a sense of how long the rest of the trip might take.
A caravan earlier this year that brought several hundred people to the U.S.-Mexico border (out of more than 1,000 who were at one point participating) wound up near Tijuana. That represents a lengthy trip for the current caravan, requiring two solid days of driving from where it was this weekend. Doing it on foot would take far longer: more than a month. If the caravan was to head instead to Brownsville, Tex. — about 1,100 miles north of its latest location — it would take it about 15 days of walking, bringing it to the U.S. border city early next month.
The routes on the map above, while providing good lower and upper estimates for the length of the journey, are probably not the ones the latest caravan will end up taking.
For one thing, the routes on the map above include substantial elevation changes. To get to Tijuana on foot would mean walking up (and down and up and down) elevation rises and drops of more than 21 miles. The trip to Brownsville is slightly easier, with an up-and-down of about four miles. (The route from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala’s border with Mexico saw a change of just under five miles.)
(One of the reasons the Tijuana route takes so much longer is Google incorporates uphill walking into its estimates.)
Many migrants headed through Mexico use routes that take them up from the southern border through Mexico City, ultimately arriving at Nogales, Ariz., or El Paso, according to research by the Dallas Morning News. Those are about 650-hour and 600-hour trips respectively from the bridge near Tapachula, Mexico, on foot — that is, more than three weeks long.
Most migrants making those trips are not traveling on foot. Many hitch a ride on trains heading north, a dangerous undertaking. But the size of the current caravan, estimated at several thousand people, complicates that journey northward, as does the attention already being paid to it by Mexican and U.S. authorities.
We have been through this before. Earlier this year, that other caravan made its way north while under constant rhetorical fire from Trump. Participants began arriving at the border on about April 20, although the bulk of those who completed the journey arrived days later, on the 29th. Most did not complete the journey. Many stopped in Mexico City, a change of plan that resulted, one organizer said, from the sheer size of the group. (That caravan was much smaller than the current one.) Other people were detained or gave up before reaching the U.S. border.
That group set out in late March, meaning its journey from Honduras took about a month in total. If the present caravan takes roughly that long to make the trip, most of the migrants who complete it could be expected to reach the border around the middle of November.
Just after Election Day.