GP Insights # 224, 19 January 2020
In the news
About 2,000 Hondurans, many with hopes of reaching the United States, streamed towards the Guatemalan border the past week, forming a migrant caravan. Traveling by foot and hitchhiking, the group set off from the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula earlier in the week.
Around 500 migrants left from San Pedro Sula, Honduras' most violent city, on 14 January 2020, and the second group of some 1,500 left on 18 January 2020. The caravan was met with some resistance at the Guatemalan border when Honduran police fired tear gas to repel a group trying to cross the border.
Issues at large
The new President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, stated that his government would honor Central American migration agreements that permitted Hondurans to enter Guatemala as long as they had proper identification. Mexico also finds itself at crossroads under renewed pressure from the United States to strengthen its borders further and block the group's passage across its territory. Mr Giammattei said Mexican officials had vowed to restrict the caravan's movement following a meeting with Mexico's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard.
These caravans were loosely organized through social media and messaging groups. Caravans have tended to attract migrants with fewer resources, those with not enough money to pay a smuggler. Caravans also offer a greater level of security than travelling alone or in small groups.
Hondurans make up the majority of the migrants from Central America's Northern Triangle countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, who have been apprehended in Mexico.
According to the National Migration Institute, in the first 11 months of 2019, Mexico detained nearly 77,500 Honduran migrants and deported 58,900.
In 2018 and 2019, the migrant caravans angered President Trump and posed a direct challenge to governments throughout the region. He compelled his regional counterparts to step up their migration enforcement efforts by freezing American aid and threatening tariffs. The Northern Triangle countries have all signed agreements with the Trump administration that require migrants who pass through one of those countries to first seek asylum there before applying in the United States. However, the Guatemala deal is the only one of the three that has been put into effect so far. In recent weeks, the American authorities have begun sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers back to Guatemala to apply for sanctuary there. In the hopes of dissuading people from seeking refuge in the United States, the Trump Administration has imposed increasingly restrictive policies, including expanding a program that returns individual migrants to Mexico while their immigration cases are carried out in American courts.
San Pedro Sula is one of Central America's most violent cities. It was also the departure point for a large caravan in 2018 that prompted Trump to press governments in the region to do more to contain migration. The recent migrant caravans can lead to the further US pressuring towards the Central American nations.
The Trump administration has been in talks with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras over the past year to require asylum-seekers travelling through those countries to seek refuge there first. However, the US has only entered an official agreement with Guatemala, which would mean those passing through from Honduras are supposed to apply for asylum in Guatemala instead of going on to Mexico or the US. Last July, Guatemala's former President Jimmy Morales agreed with the US government to implement measures aimed at reducing the US asylum claims from migrants fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, averting Trump's threat of economic sanctions. The recent migrant activities can further pave the way for the threat of economic sanctions from the US.