Two ruinous hurricanes that wrecked and flooded swathes of Central America last month have increased the number of families planning a risky journey northward. And after a year of travel bans and soaring unemployment, demand to reach the U.S. was already high.
“There are going to be caravans, and in the coming weeks it will increase,” said Jose Luis Gonzalez, coordinator of the Guatemala Red Jesuita con Migrantes, a non-governmental organization. “People are no longer scared of the coronavirus. They’re going hungry, they’ve lost everything, and some towns are still flooded.”
Joe Biden has pledged to abolish many of the migration policies of Donald Trump, including prolonged detention and separation of families, which were designed to deter illegal migration. This encourages more impoverished Central Americans to make the trip and test the Biden administration, said Gonzalez.
“When there is a change in government in the U.S. or Mexico, caravans start to move because they are testing the waters to see how authorities respond,” he said. “What they see is that the one who said he was going to build a wall and hated Latinos is on his way out.”
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On social media, announcements are circulating for caravans, groups of migrants traveling together, leaving San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city, which was hit by both storms. The first caravan is scheduled to leave in the coming days and the second in mid-January.
Biden’s advisers are hoping to shift away from Trump’s policies if they take office without signaling that the border has been flung open, according to people familiar with the planning. They know that swift, sweeping changes will spur more people to attempt the journey to the U.S.
“President-elect Joe Biden will restore order, dignity and fairness to our immigration system,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for Biden’s transition. “At its core, his immigration policy will be driven by the need to keep families together and end the disastrous policy of family separation.”
A senior Mexican foreign ministry official said migration is likely to remain one of the main challenges in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, adding that Mexico will continue to promote cooperation for development to address its root causes and plan to handle it together with partners in the region.