SAN SALVADOR — A caravan of an estimated 200 migrants departed here on Sunday en route to the United States, sparked by a similar group from Honduras that is making its way through Mexico.
Migrants say they are fleeing violence, corruption and unemployment. Many see the caravan as their best chance of migrating safely to the United States given the dangers of crossing Mexico.
“Life isn’t good here,” said 13-year-old Anderson Medina Abrego. “They are killing a lot of people. I live in Barrio 18 gang territory, so I can’t even go to another area because they say they will kill me.”
His mother, Edita Abrego Lira, 54, echoed his concerns.
“If I send them to the store, I’m going to worry if they don’t come back soon,” she said.
Although recent caravans of Central Americans have drawn heightened attention from U.S. politicians, migrating is a daily reality for many Salvadorans. More than 50,000 migrants from the country were apprehended when trying to cross into the United States in 2017, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
“El Salvador experiences a migration dynamic where 200 to 300 people migrate each day,” said Cesar Rios, director of the Salvadoran Institute for Migration, a nongovernmental organization based in San Salvador. “A caravan is the visibility of this hidden reality.”
Salvadoran migrants see strength and protection in numbers.
“We’ve thought about going before, but now we finally have the opportunity,” said 18-year-old Dalila Abigail Landaverde, who is traveling with her partner and their 3-year-old daughter, Tatiana. Landaverde said the family has received threats since her mother was killed in 2014.
“In a caravan, you are united. If something happens to you, someone will help you,” said Jessica Yamileth Zabaleta Guzman, 24, who is traveling with her partner and their 1-year-old son.
Upon hearing rumors of the caravan, the Salvadoran Ministry of Justice and Security dispatched police to patrol the perimeter of the plaza where migrants gathered Sunday morning, many with small backpacks and some with no belongings at all.
The measures were to ensure the safe passage of the migrants rather than hinder their journey, according to a ministry spokesman.
In a statement, Minister of Justice and Public Security Mauricio Landaverde emphasized that “mobility is a reality and a right.”
In Washington, President Trump has threatened to cut off or substantially reduce U.S. aid to countries that do not stop the migrants. Last week, The Washington Post reported that Trump was considering a plan to use emergency powers to shut the U.S. border to Central American migrants.
Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has rejected Trump’s demands to prevent migrants from leaving.
“For us, migrating is a right, and so migrants’ rights have to be respected,” Sánchez Cerén said at a news conference in Cuba on Wednesday.
Another Honduran caravan of an estimated 1,000 migrants clashed with Mexican authorities at the Guatemala-Mexico border Sunday. A second Salvadoran caravan is expected to leave Wednesday, with an estimated 500 participants.
A caravan of migrants that left the Honduran city San Pedro Sula on Oct. 13 has gained the attention of Trump and other Republican politicians who have questioned the timing of the caravan just weeks before U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6.
The Trump administration has blamed the Venezuelan government, billionaire George Soros and House Democrats for organizing the caravan. There is no evidence to support those claims.
Some of the Salvadoran migrants said they were unaware of the midterm elections and the political implications of the timing of their journey.
“Donald Trump doesn’t like us Latinos, but we are still going to go,” said Luis Antonio Lopez, 32, who is going to the United States to look for work.
Central Americans have been migrating to the United States in large numbers since at least the 1980s, when countries experienced deadly civil wars and U.S. intervention in the region fueled massive human rights abuses.
In recent years, Salvadorans have migrated north fleeing violence, extreme poverty and corruption.
Despite decreasing rates of violence, the country still has one of the highest rates of homicides in the world, with nearly 4,000 murders in 2017 in a country roughly the size of Massachusetts.