TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - The group that organized a monthlong caravan of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States wanted to draw attention to the plight of people fleeing violence. If headlines are any measure, it has been a smashing success.
President Donald Trump and Cabinet members have called the caravan a deliberate attempt to overwhelm U.S. authorities and proof that more must be done to secure the border with Mexico, including construction of a wall. The rhetoric from the White House and its allies has also fueled an outpouring of support from Mexicans and Americans, with food and other staples, financial contributions, free legal advice and offers of a place to live in the U.S.
Roberto Corona, founder of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, considers the intense spotlight a mixed blessing. It has raised public awareness of the toll of violence in Central America, but he said it may sharpen a crackdown by the U.S. government.
“We want to show the humanity of this, not the politics,” Corona said. “It’s not about the wall.”
Caravan organizers have been pilloried by the Trump administration. Vice President Mike Pence said during a California border tour Monday that the asylum seekers were being “exploited by open-border political activists and an agenda-driven media.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday he was sending more prosecutors and immigration judges to the border.
Trump has used the caravan to try to build support for his wall - even though the asylum seekers generally turn themselves in to border inspectors - and to call for an end to so-called “catch-and-release” laws and court rulings that allow some asylum seekers to remain free while their cases wind through immigration court, which can take several years.
The latest caravan marks an evolution of Easter-season migrant protests that started around 2008, usually sponsored by Catholic priests who ran shelters. For the first few years, they seldom did more than advance through the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, often dressing in Biblical garb and carrying crosses in processions meant to echo Jesus’ walk to his crucifixion and to protest the violence they suffered themselves.
They drew little attention, partly because thousands of Central Americans were openly streaming north through Mexico aboard freight trains every day, headed for the U.S. border.
When Mexico cracked down on its southern border and migrants riding trains in 2014, the processions became higher profile. They were a way to defy the government “blockade” of the trains and the highway checkpoints where buses were searched. The 2014 caravan was effectively broken up by Mexican police in the southern state of Tabasco....Even after the government began to take a more hands-off approach, the caravans seldom got as far as Mexico City, though some smaller groups made it to the U.S. border.Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which Corona created at Southern Methodist University in 2008 to ensure Latino