Misrepresentation of migrant caravans

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Time and time again, we see the bolded headlines and aerial shots of groups walking, each story starting with “BREAKING!” and ending with another update about the current Central American migrant caravan. Yes, it is considered one of the largest caravans to assemble and travel northward toward the U.S.-Mexico border. Yes, they are all seeking asylum. And yes, they are walking thousands of miles for a reason. Unfortunately, it seems that American news sites continuously overlook the reasons why a family would decide to leave the place they call home.

Before we can recognize the factors that would push people to leave their native country, we should realize a few things about migrant caravans in general. One, they are more common than you think; what makes this one different is its size. The United Nations currently estimates that there are about 7,000 people traveling in the caravan. Yet again, after considering the “what” and “how many” aspects of the caravan, we must look at the “why.” In basic terms, there is safety in numbers. After all, the migrants are traveling on the same roads used by kidnapping gangs and other criminals. Additionally, given the large crowd, the police is bound to keep an eye on them. Second, migrants are desperate; they have waited for the chance to leave, and now they can for cheaper than usual. The other option for many families would have been to hire an expert smuggler who knows the way north; however, these guides can cost up to $10,000, and in impoverished countries, this amount is simply not feasible.

Now, we must consider: what situation forces a family to drop everything, join a caravan, and never look back? Most of the families in the caravan are from Honduras, a country located in Central America. When considering the social and political issues surrounding the country at the moment, the 2,300 children estimated to be traveling north seems to make more sense.

Honduras has a long history of military rule, corruption, poverty, and crime, including a U.S. backed military coup in 2009 that radically destabilized the country. Consequently, in a country where over half the population lives below the poverty line and where gang violence reigns, the murder rate per capita is one of the world’s highest. The threat of murder is faced by journalists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, lawyers, human rights defenders, and environmental activists who try to fight for the rights of the Honduran people. Even regular citizens who are simply trying to feed their families fear for their lives. Lurking behind this threat is the Honduran police, who are extremely corrupt. As of May 2017, through the Special Commission for Police Reform Restructuring committee, an estimated 4,000 of the more than 9,000 police officers in question had been removed. That’s almost half of them. However, despite alleged involvement in criminal activities, these officers are rarely ever convicted.

Honduras is in a state of crisis. For many of the 9 million citizens, remaining in their homes is equal to accepting death. Deciding to leave everything they are familiar with to migrate north, and risking dehydration, sickness, and countless hardships is not an easy thing to do. Migrant caravans are not herds of criminals, waiting to destroy the United States; they are refugees escaping the suffocating rule of a military government. How can they be criminals if they are running away from crime itself?