The US has a long history of welcoming refugees into the country, but why hasn’t Latin America been a bigger part of this refugee community? A refugee is defined as a person who is outside their country of origin and is unable to go back to their home country for fear of persecution. The national and international legal system distinguishes between “economic migrants” and “refugees,” but these categories are irrelevant in relation to the lives of Central Americans. Poverty in a country ties into political and institutional oppression, cycles of violence and criminal justice systems. People don’t flee their home countries without a good reason.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras
Last year the US Department of State opened its borders with a small program for Central American minors, but this has been the biggest welcome Central America has gotten from the US lately. The organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras is attempting to publicly question US and Mexican migration laws through the Viacrusis de Refugiados (Refugee Caravan).
The Refugee Caravan is a group of immigrants traveling together across Mexico and to the U.S. border in a peaceful protest. The group left Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala on April 9th, and plans to arrive in Tijuana, Mexico (right on the US border with Mexico) around the first week of May. The group started out in Guatemala with only 15 people, but at least 230 more people are expected to join along the way, and more are always welcome.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras is a group of community activists who have been aiding migrants in their journeys for the past 15 years, but this is the first time the group has actively publicized the migrants’ journey. IMM Print plans to follow the journey of these immigrants seeking refuge and the community organizers accompanying them. We will provide weekly updates, but you can also find full press releases at Pueblo San Fronteras website here.
Below is an summary of Pueblo Sin Fronteras press releases from the first week of traveling : from Tecún Umán, Guatemala to Coatzacoalcos, Mexico.
April 9th: Central America Rejects Its Death Sentence
The Refugee Caravan 2017 begins in Tecún Umán, Guatemala. Salvadoran men, women and children practiced the Biblical “Way of the Cross” on the first day of their journey together, giving voice to their goal of migration. The group passed through Ciudad Hidalgo, and then to Tapachula (a city that is home to the largest immigrant detention center in Mexico).
In Tapachula, caravan participants met other forcibly displaced Central Americans denied their right to refuge by the Mexican State. This was despite the fact that family members and spouses were murdered in their home countries and many would face forced recruitment or persecution by police or organized crime if they were forced to return.
There was solidarity in the shared perspective that the current refugee crisis is inextricably linked to continued imperialist intervention. That night in Tapachula, the caravan grew to a gathering of around 100 people protesting the Mexican government’s seeming indifference toward the issue of refugees.
April 11th: Refugees Resit Under Hostile Circumstances
On its second day, the Refugee Caravan left the town of Tapachula in active protest, shouting slogans of their struggle outside of COMAR (Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance).
“Migrants are not criminals; We are international workers. Blood is stained with borders because the working class is killed there.”
About 120 people peacefully demonstrated their situation without abiding by the 12 week COMAR process for deciding asylum legality. Participants gave testimonies outside, but no representative of COMAR came out to listen or respond.
The march of undocumented immigrants continued past a checkpoint and into Huixtla, generating great excitement and confidence within the group. This powerful act of protest in crossing borders without documentation is an act of rebellion, and an exercise in a creation of new rights. That night the caravan participants slept in a park in the town of Huehuetan.
April 16th: Easter Sunday
On Easter, about 200 Central American men and women climbed on top of a train leaving Ixtepec, Oaxaca for Medias Aguas, Veracruz. In the early hours of April 17th, the train was still stopped in Ixtepec, slowing the journey of the Refugee Caravan. The Caravan members remain firm about their decision to take the train.
Those who ride the train are historically the poorest people in the country, and with Mexico’s implementation of the Southern Border Plan in 2014, immigration enforcement raids were increased along train routes. For the migrants, claiming the train is a symbol of their struggle for free and safe passage to a different life. The dangers of the train are not as great as the prospect of staying in their home countries. Riding the train is a way to expose the cruelty of US and Mexican immigration policy, as well as inequality and institutional violence of Central America.
While the migrants continue their struggle aboard the train, a group of more than 40 women and children took the highway to Coatzacoalcos and were received by the press, local organizations and international activists. They await for their Caravan companions to arrive via train before continuing their journey.
A video posted on Facebook by the group Cultura Migrante on the night of April 17th records an attempted immigration raid as the train was surrounded by 80 law enforcement officers in Medias Aguas, Veracruz. As the officers shone flashlights, the migrants chanted “We are not criminals!” For now, they have not been arrested.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras is a small collective who is able to exist from support from family, friends and donors, if you are interested in supporting the group, you can contact representatives here.