MEXICO CITY: The migrants in a caravan used by President Donald Trump as a campaign issue were almost universally unaware of the results of the US midterm elections.
The Central Americans were more concerned with the dangers of northern Mexico as they struggled to reach the US border, still hundreds of miles away, than with who controls the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Kenia Johana Hernandez, a 26-year Honduran farmworker, left her country with her 2-year-old daughter because she couldn’t afford child care or schooling. Asked if her decision to emigrate had anything to do with the US elections, the answer was a simple, “No.”
For her, the caravan was merely a safety measure. “If I had come alone with just my daughter, maybe I wouldn’t have even made it this far because it is so dangerous,” she said.
Gilberta Raula, 38, from Samala, Guatemala, joined the caravan at the Mexican border because it seemed her best chance to get her 15-year-old daughter out of the country. She left six other children behind, but wants to give her daughter an opportunity to study and work.
She had only the vaguest idea of the issues surrounding Tuesday’s US midterms.
What she did know, she said, was that “the US president has acted badly.”
“The way we hear it, he doesn’t like anybody,” she said of Trump. Told that Trump’s Republican party had lost control of the US House of Representatives she said, “Ah, good.” She, like others, expressed hope that somehow it might help their chances of finding refuge.
Franklin Martinez, a 46-year-old farmworker from La Esperanza, Honduras, said Wednesday he’d probably stay in Mexico City for a while before setting off again northward, to see if things changed following the US elections.
“Because now it’s an anti-immigrant wave,” Martinez said. “They’re not well-received at the border.”
Experts agree that the formation of this latest caravan and the others that have set off for the US border before it have far more to do with politics in Central America and current conditions in Mexico, where drug gangs frequently kidnap migrants to demand ransom from their families in the US.
“The first concern is collective security, there is safety in numbers,” said Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope. “There is a political logic to this, but it’s not exactly aimed at influencing the US elections.”
“It brings pressure on the authorities of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador more than anything else,” he said. “This sends a message that there is a human rights crisis in the Northern Triangle of Central America.”
That view was shared by former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes, who helped formed the caravan of just a few hundred migrants that set out from Honduras on Oct. 13, before growing to as many as 7,000 at its peak. Fuentes told a news conference at the Mexico City stadium where the migrants are staying that the caravan embarrasses the Honduran government “because now the world is seeing the tragedy we live with.”
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the Republican losses in the House suggest that Trump tried to use the migrants “politically, to depict the caravan as an invasion, and it didn’t work.”
Benitez said the caravan has put as much pressure on Mexico as the United States. After the migrants entered, Mexico came under pressure to accelerate the refugee and asylum process for Central Americans.
“The caravan shows that Mexico could give more humanitarian treatment to these people,” said Benitez, “that Mexico should treat these people the way Mexico wants the US to treat migrants.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Gascon, the Mexico representative for the International Organization for Migration, estimated there were about 6,000 migrants at the sports complex and maybe another 4,000 in caravans that are working their way through southern Mexico.
But some migrants had been visiting the organization’s tent asking about how they can return home.
“They perhaps didn’t have a very clear idea of what they faced,” Gascon said. He said the first bus leaving Mexico City to take migrants back to their countries was scheduled to depart Wednesday night with 40 to 50 people.
Meanwhile, other migrants were focusing on the daunting task of reaching the US border and presenting asylum requests there. The US elections occupied only a small part of their thoughts.
Nora Torres, a 53-year-old Honduran, anxiously asked a reporter: “How did he (Trump) do? Did he do well or poorly?“
Torres had run a small restaurant but closed it because gangs were demanding too much protection money.
For her, Trump’s threats to make attaining asylum even more difficult, of detaining applicants in tent cities and of sending as many as 15,000 US troops to the southern border were hard to understand.
“The United States needs Hispanic labor, because it is cheaper,” she said. “So why do they discriminate against us?“