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From Draft NOtices, January-March 2019

Militarized Response to the Central American Refugee Caravan

Jesús D. Mendez Carbajal

Since at least the 1980s, Central Americans have been making the journey from their home countries, traveling through Mexico, many with the goal of entering the United States. Different waves of Central Americans have arrived in the U.S. because of various reasons including civil war, persecution, and violence. The shared reason among migrants for leaving their home behind is the constant instability in the region due in large part to the interventionist foreign policies of the U.S. Migrants are motivated, as well, by the drive to provide a better tomorrow for their children, families and themselves. Central Americans, like other immigrant groups in the country, currently hold varied immigration statuses, including U.S. Citizenship, Legal Permanent Resident Status, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and undocumented status. This is to say that the experiences of Central Americans who reach the U.S. are also impacted by the legal status they hold.

In 2018, in comparison to past migration patterns, there was an astounding increase in Central American large group migration. The beginning half of the year saw the first large group of migrants including at least 300. This first group was made up mostly of Hondurans and arrived in Tijuana, Baja California, in April 2018 after starting their journey as part of the week-long Easter celebrations that take place across Latin America. This caravan was organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras. According to their website, they are a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting vulnerable migrants and refugees in the United States and Mexico through “humanitarian aid and professional legal advice.” The migrants arriving in the U.S.-Mexico border region in the past year, specifically at the San Diego/Tijuana border port of entry, have shown up with determination to present their claims of asylum, a human right as dictated by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

In response to the recent caravan and to the vast increase in asylum claims from Central Americans, as well as from migrants prior to the caravan and from other parts of the world, Trump and his administration have taken yet another opportunity to push anti-immigrant rhetoric and a flawed border agenda. In one outburst, Trump spoke about changing national immigration laws and the ways in which the U.S. carries out international mandates that require accepting asylum claims and giving everyone an opportunity to make and fight their case. Instead of upholding national and international standards, Trump, in his tweets and press conferences, has spewed abhorrent hate and exclusion toward those seeking asylum.

The arrival of the thousands of migrants in Tijuana has marked an escalating negative shift in border policy. (This is not, however, to discount the years of abuse with impunity that border communities have been facing long since before Trump took power.) Trump used the political moment of the impending November elections to make threatening calls for up to 15,000 military personnel along the southern border in order to provide “support” to Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Border Patrol. This was on top of the National Guard troops already deployed earlier in 2018. In a San Diego Union Tribune commentary, Pedro Rios, current Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, states that Trump’s call for more troops “effectively declares war on poor migrants seeking refuge and treats border communities as a war zone”.

As part of his rationale for doing this, Trump cited a “border crisis” in an attempt to fan the flames of his base, and he claimed “more evidence” of the need to secure funding for his border wall. Trump’s militarized response to migrants in Tijuana escalates past presidential policies that served to militarize the southern border region and impact both sides. The heightened tension is evident in the decision to enact violence on members of the caravan in November 2018, the majority of whom were women and children under age 18. They are economically poor people who lived in countries suffering from the long-term impact of induced and sustained poverty inflicted by foreign nations, including the U.S. In the course of this rampage against border communities and migrants seeking asylum, both the Otay Mesa Port of Entry and the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest port of entry in the world, were shut down at least once. Add to this the presence of armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the newly-erected blockades of concrete dividers, and the fresh concertina wire added to many already established fences. To further escalate the situation, migrants were assaulted with tear gas, all in the name of “securing our borders.”

In the face of this administration’s growing attacks on many of our marginalized communities, when will we say enough? What will it take for us to stand strong against the pervasive militarism spreading along the border and in urban centers?

Photo: Militarized forces at the international border in San Diego, California. Pedro Rios, AFSC

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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