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Caravan members flee poverty, corruption at home

More than 7,000 Central American migrants continue their journey north through Mexico. The group, which an accompanying reporter describes as “more of an exodus,” contains a broad variety of ages and demographics, all disillusioned by conditions in their home countries and hoping for safety in numbers. Amna Nawaz speaks to USA Today's Alan Gomez about who is traveling in the caravan and why.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    They are on a long and difficult trek,thousands of Central American migrants, making their way, as a group, to the United States.

    The caravan, pausing for rest today in Huixtla, Mexico, has suddenly become the subject of heated political rhetoric here.

    But, first, a look at who's traveling in the caravan, and why, from Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, more than 7,000 migrants, mostly Honduran, woke this morning to continue the journey north.

  • Elsa Romero (through translator):

    When we heard the caravan was coming, we joined. This is an opportunity to improve my family's life.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Reuters reporter Delphine Schrank is traveling with the group, and describes it as less of a caravan and more of an exodus.

  • Delphine Schrank:

    It's a real mixture. I mean, the majority are fairly young, but it's a complete mixture of men, women, lots of children, people of various ages.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Caravans like this have been organized for more than a decade, a group migration built on the principle of safety in numbers, and helped along the way by nonprofits like Pueblo Sin Fronteras.

    Earlier this spring, a smaller caravan of around 1,500 left Southern Mexico. Only a few hundred ultimately sought asylum in the U.S.

    Schrank says this group came together much more spontaneously, and that the migrants she's talked to are more concerned with what they're leaving than where they end up.

  • Delphine Schrank:

    Over and over, I have heard from dozens of migrants who say the same thing, that no matter how cruel or how difficult the welcome is at the United States border, the overwhelming need they feel to flee a toxic mixture of violence, corruption, unemployment, political failure, as they see it, in Honduras really is what weighs most upon their minds.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    President Trump's escalating rhetoric, like at this Texas rally last night, has brought this year's caravans to the forefront of the immigration debate, two weeks ahead of midterm elections.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You know, what's happening right now, as a large group of people — they call it a caravan. I think the Democrats had something to do with it, and now they're saying, I think we made a big mistake, because people are seeing how bad it is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, the migrants continue their journey, mostly on foot, and now over 1,000 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing.

    Picking it up from there to discuss some of the rhetoric and policy surrounding all of this is Alan Gomez. He's an immigration reporter for USA Today.

    Alan Gomez, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    We heard the president there in Texas last night. But I want to ask you about something he said earlier today in the Oval Office. He was asked about a couple allegations he had made about the caravan. He has said there are members of the gang MS-13 and, as he put it, Middle Easterners traveling in the caravan.

    Here's what the president said earlier today.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Certainly, you have people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country, and I'm not letting them in. They're not coming in. All right? They're not coming in. We're going to do whatever we have to. They're not coming in.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alan Gomez, what do you make about what the president is alleging there? Is there any validity to that claim?

  • Alan Gomez:

    Not that his administration can point to as of yet.

    We have been asking the Department of Homeland Security ever since he started making those claims in a series of tweets where the proof was that there were members of gangs, criminals, as he refers to them generally as Middle Easterners, in the group, and they haven't been able to point to any examples or any proof that anybody exists.

    Instead, what they're doing is they're falling back is, they're falling back on percentages. They have been passing out data of the number of criminals, gang members and people from — quote — "special interest countries" who have been caught trying to cross the border illegally over the past year.

    When you put those numbers into context, it shows that about 5 percent of people caught along the border are — have some kind of criminal background. About 0.3 percent are gang members, and about 0.8 percent come from special interest countries that include some Middle Eastern countries.

    But — so, they're saying the numbers indicate that there has to be in that group. And Vice President Pence made that same claim that, if you look at the size of this, there just has to be some of those folks in there.

    In the last hour, we have heard from the Department of Homeland Security that they are confirming that there are some criminals and some Middle Easterners in there. We followed up with them, but haven't heard anything back.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, the president's focus on this specific caravan has elevated it substantially. There's been caravans in the past, one earlier this year.

    You know, in the entire immigration landscape, which you cover so deeply, why has this one event caught the president's attention so strongly?

  • Alan Gomez:

    Timing.

    We're just about two weeks away from the election, and basically this falls into his rhetoric so perfectly. He's basically taken a page out of his 2016 presidential campaign, and just riling up on immigration right now.

    This is an issue that the 2016 election proved is one that will rile up his base, is one that appeals to them, is one that interests them, is one that scares them. And so the timing of this, the idea that, for the next two weeks, because this caravan will — it's a slow march. They're walking. They're still well over 1,000 miles away from the border.

    The fact that these images will be aired on TV repeatedly for these next two weeks is perfect for him, because it shows this idea of an invasion, as he likes to call it.

    I have been watching congressional debates around the country in House districts in small — in states like Idaho and Iowa and Minnesota and Pittsburgh in the Northeast. You hear this Honduran caravan coming up repeatedly, because it's something that Republicans realize is something that can energize their base.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alan Gomez of USA Today, who covers immigration there, we're going to have to leave it there.

    Thank you very much for your time.

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