News outlets and pundits alike spent much of the year talking about the so-called “migrant caravan.” But more than one group of asylum-seekers made its way north to the U.S. border this year, crossing thousands of miles through Central America and Mexico. An early caravan, composed mostly of people fleeing Honduras, began in March, with numbers that at times reached more than a thousand.“Remnants of Migrant Caravan Resume Trek to U.S. Border,” CBS News, April 19, 2018; and “What to Know About the Migrant Caravans,” CBS News, April 4, 2018.
The journey drew President Trump’s ire, and he threatened to send the military to reinforce the border as well as to withdraw aid from Honduras.“Remnants of Migrant Caravan Resume Trek,” 2018; and “What to Know About the Migrant Caravans,” 2018.
He renewed threats against Mexico if the country failed to stop the migrants from reaching the United States, including warning that Mexico’s actions would have a direct effect on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).“Remnants of Migrant Caravan Resume Trek,” 2018; and “What to Know About the Migrant Caravans,” 2018.
The March caravan, however, was dwarfed by the group of travelers that began the trek north from Honduras in October, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated to contain 7,000 people. Annie Correal and Megan Specia, “The Migrant Caravan: What to Know About the Thousands Traveling North,” New York Times, October 26, 2018; and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “UNHCR Says Stabilizing ‘Caravan’ Situation Urgently Important,” press briefing (New York: UNHCR, October 23, 2018). Many travelled seeking asylum; others fled poverty and unemployment.Correal, “The Migrant Caravan,” 2018; and UNHCR, “UNHCR Says Stabilizing ‘Caravan’,” 2018. As the first migrants reached the U.S. border in November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired tear gas at them in response to what President Trump characterized as “tremendous violence” and what the Customs and Border Protection Commissioner reported as four agents in protective gear being struck by rocks.Alex Horton, “Why Tear Gas, Lobbed at Migrants on the Southern Border, Is Banned In Warfare,” Washington Post, November 27, 2018; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “Statement from Commissioner McAleenan on Incident at San Ysidro Yesterday AfternoonStatement from Commissioner McAleenan on Incident at San Ysidro Yesterday Afternoon,” press release (Washington, DC: CBP, November 26, 2018). The President has authorized the use of deadly force in a memorandum some say may run afoul of the Posse Comitatus Act, stating “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle.”The White House, Decision Memorandum for the President through Derek S. Lyons Re: “Department of Defense Support for Border Security,” (Washington, DC: The White House, November 20, 2018); and James LaPorta, “Donald Trump Signs Authorization for Border Troops Using Lethal Force as Migrant Caravan Approaches, Document Reveals,” Newsweek, November 21, 2018.
For those in the caravan seeking asylum in the United States, that option was limited by President Trump’s November proclamation—followed up immediately by an interim final rule from acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—banning migrants from applying for asylum anywhere except official ports of entry.The White House, “Presidential Proclamation Addressing Mass Migration Through the Southern Border of the United States” (Washington, DC: The White House, November 9, 2018); and Aliens Subject to a Bar on Entry Under Certain Presidential Proclamations; Procedures for Protection Claims, 83 Fed. Reg. 55934 (November 9, 2018). The proclamation has already been the subject of litigation: Judge Jon Tigar issued a temporary restraining order in November blocking the implementation of the rule, which was upheld by both the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, No. 18-cv-06810-JST (N.D. Cal. November 19, 2018) (order granting temporary restraining order); East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, No. 18-17274 (9th Cir. December 7, 2018) (order), https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/order-ebsc-v-trump-stay-denied-ninth-circuit-ruling; and Trump v. East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, No. 18A615, 586 U.S. ___ (December 21, 2018) (order in pending case). In December, Tigar issued a preliminary injunction staying implementation of the rule pending the outcome of the case.East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, No. 18-cv-06810-JST (N.D. Cal. December 19, 2018) (order granting preliminary injunction). The administration then implemented a new policy, dubbed “Remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to remain outside the country while their claims are being processed.Nick Miroff, Joshua Partlow and Josh Dawsey, “Trump Plan Would Force Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico as Cases Are Processed, a Major Break with Current Policy,” Washington Post, November 21, 2018; U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen Announces Historic Action to Confront Illegal Immigration,” press release (Washington, DC: DHS, December 20, 2018); and Geneva Sands and Priscilla Alvarez, “US Immigration Authorities Detail So-Called Return-to-Mexico Guidance for Migrants,” CNN, January 28, 2019. Combined with the Border Patrol practice of “metering,” or limiting the number of asylum seekers who may enter the country per day, the result is that people remain effectively trapped just south of the border.Aline Barros, “Lawsuit Challenges US Border Turnbacks, Metering,” Voice of America, December 3, 2018. The metering practice is the subject of another federal lawsuit alleging that the policy was designed to restrict access to the asylum process.Al Otro Lado, Inc. v. Nielsen, No. 3:17-cv-02366-BAS-KSC (S.D. Cal. October 12, 2018) (first amended complaint).