THOUSANDS of migrants from Central America are pressing north towards the United States, with tacit approval from the Episcopal Church in the US.
Last weekend, 7000 people, many of whom formed a caravan in Honduras, passed from Guatemala into Mexico, despite the efforts of its government to stop them.
The refugee and immigration policy adviser for the Episcopal Church, Lacy Broemel, said on Monday: “All people have a right to seek asylum, and deterring individuals from seeking protection is neither lawful nor compassionate.
“The Episcopal Church advocates for policies that treat asylum-seekers with dignity and respect, and urges governments to uphold due process and international law in responding to asylum-seekers.
“The Episcopal Church also calls for a robust, holistic, and regional humanitarian response from the United States government and its allies that addresses the root causes of violence in Central America.”
President Trump has described the asylum-seekers as an “onslaught of illegal aliens”. He said that the group contained “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners”. This is unverified.
Many of the members of the caravan have said that they are fleeing poverty and crime in Honduras; some reported that they were attempting to escape extortion and exploitation at home. Others said that they wished to enter the United States to find work.
Vice-President Mike Pence said this week that “it’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent” in the group, and that it had been partly organised “by leftist groups” and given funds by Venezuela.
The caravan of people had reached Huixtla, Mexico, by Tuesday. Its mayor, José Luis Laparra Calderón, told The New York Times: “These people are fleeing from the poverty of their countries. These are working people. They aren’t bringing bombs. They want to improve their lives. We want to make their passage through here as agreeable for them as possible.”
REUTERSHondurans fleeing to the US to escape poverty and violence rest inside a church in Ocotepeque, Honduras, on Sunday
One member of the group, Aida Acevedo, told The Guardian that she had fled extortion, and sought safety in the US. She said: “God is the one who will decide if we make it. Trump doesn’t have that power.”
Another, Edin Mata, had previously been deported back to Honduras from the US after being found living there illegally. He said: “We live like slaves in Honduras; I lived so much better in the US.”
On Monday, President Trump said in a message posted on Twitter that, when Americans see the caravan, they should “think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws”. Mid-term US elections are to be held next month, in which all seats in the House of Representatives are up for a vote, as well as one third of seats in the Senate.
The President also warned that he would be “cutting off” or “substantially reducing” foreign aid for Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, after they failed to stop the caravan.
The NGO Human Rights Watch said on Sunday: “Cutting aid to refugee-producing countries will only make worse the conditions that displace people in the first place.
“Root causes must be addressed, among them ending corruption and impunity for abuses by state-security forces. This is the right approach: people generally don’t want to leave their homes if they can live normal, safe lives there.”
Mexican officials said asylum-seekers attempting to reach the US are under no legal obligation to register in their country as well.
One migrant, Juan Carlos García García, told The New York Times: “It’s not a crime to migrate.” He said: “We’ve not done anything against Mexican law. They said they weren’t going to allow us to pass. But God has the last word.”
A shelter in Guatemala, run by the Roman Catholic Scalabrini Centre, helped 1700 Hondurans last week, Catholic News Service reported. A member of staff, Carlos Lopez, said that they usually could cope only with 80 people. “We have a soccer-field full of people, in the dining room, in every nook and cranny. They’re on the bleachers, in the school gym. . . We’re experiencing chaos right now.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. Here there are 75-year-old elderly women and two-month-old babies.”
The caravan began on 12 October, setting out from San Pedro Sula, in Honduras. What started off as a small group has brought thousands together en route. People band together in caravans for protection from gangs found on the journey.
On Monday, the UN said that its secretary-general, António Guterres, was urging that international law should be upheld, including “full respect for countries’ rights to manage their own borders”.