Migrant Caravan Includes Gang Members or Criminals, Homeland Security Confirms

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
October 24, 2018 Updated: October 24, 2018

The caravan of thousands of people bent on illegally entering the United States includes gang members or people with “significant criminal histories,” Homeland Security Department spokesman Tyler Houlton stated in an Oct. 23 tweet.

As the caravan makes its way north towards the U.S. border, “citizens of countries outside Central America, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere are currently traveling through Mexico toward the U.S.,” Houlton said in a subsequent tweet.

The caravan set off from Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Oct. 13 and by Oct. 19. reached Ciudad Hidalgo in Southern Mexico, where the crowd was estimated between 5,000 and 9,200.

The main throng appeared organized, with people in identical green reflective vests leading and corralling the group as it walked or was transported by truck along the way.

While some locals appeared to have given rides to the migrants on small trucks, at least some of the migrants were transported part of the way by semi trucks. One video showed one of the organizers inviting the migrants into a semi truck in southern Mexico.

Mexico’s interior ministry said in a statement late on Oct. 23 that about 4,500 people had reached Huixtla, around 30 miles north of the Guatemalan border, though one of the activists speaking for the caravan, Argelia Ramirez, said more than 11,000 people had gathered in the town.

President Donald Trump has called the caravan an “onslaught” and a national emergency. He’s promised to deploy the military to close the southern border if the caravan is not stopped along the way.

“We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!” he said in an Oct. 24 tweet.

Trump also said he has started to stop or substantially reduce aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where most of the Central American migrants are coming from, because the countries failed to stop the illegal immigrant flow.

The United States sent nearly $2.3 billion in aid to the three countries between 2013 and 2017. In those fiscal years, about a million of the three countries’ citizens had been apprehended by Border Patrol trying to enter the United States illegally (pdf).

According to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Honduran President Juan Hernández said that the caravan was organized by leftist organizations and financed by Venezuela when they met for talks on Oct. 23.

One of the caravan organizers is Bartolo Fuentes, a former lawmaker for the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) party, which controls almost a quarter of the Honduran legislature and advocates socialism. Fuentes was detained in Guatemala and returned back to Honduras.

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked the Trump administration to set up a “safe third country” agreement with Mexico. That would require “those seeking refugee status to make their claim in the first country of arrival,” meaning Central Americans would need to seek asylum in Mexico, instead of just traversing the country.

“Due to the likelihood that … national security threats could mask themselves within this large caravan population, at a minimum, our federal government must prioritize the security of American citizens over anything else,” they said in an Oct. 23 letter.

The agreements, the Senators argue, would also help alleviate the overburdened refugee system in the United States, where about 850,000 remain waiting for their asylum cases to be resolved.

Central American migrants commonly apply for asylum in the United States, but most aren’t eligible because they aren’t fleeing state persecution but bad conditions in their own countries.

El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala all suffer from widespread poverty and high rates of violent crime; their murder rates are some of the highest in the world.

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Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.