"We need people in our country, but they have to come in legally, and they have to have merit," Trump said Friday before departing for Paris. The so-called "asylum ban" was immediately challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which announced its lawsuit on Twitter the same day.
BREAKING: We just filed a lawsuit to challenge the president’s new asylum ban.— ACLU (@ACLU) November 9, 2018
Neither the president nor his cabinet can override the clear commands of our law, but that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. We’ll see him in court.
Radio Sputnik's By Any Means Necessary spoke with journalist and filmmaker Gloria La Riva, who is traveling with the caravan through Mexico, about the kind of solidarity shown to the caravan migrants along the way and the challenges they would face at the border, even before the Trump administration's Friday changes.
La Riva said that the caravan migrants had hoped to be treated like refugees once they arrived in Mexico City and given buses to transport them to the US-Mexico border, but that accomodation was denied. As a consequence, the caravanista leadership voted Thursday to leave, setting out the following morning for the border city of Tijuana, in the far west of the country, however they could manage, whether by walking or hitching rides.
The journalist blasted the United Nations for failing to provide transportation resources, claiming the UN, like state officials in Veracruz who promised the migrants buses and then rescinded that promise, was bowing to pressure from the federal government in Mexico City, which didn't want to be seen helping to transport migrants to the US border. This decision was, in turn, motivated by fear of Trump.
As a result, the migrants would now be exposed to much greater danger than before, as some of the states that lie between the capital and the border are dangerous for travelers.
Help For the Caravan in Mexico
Mexico City had housed the caravan in its entirety, when in smaller towns the caravan is stretched out over several days as people travel by whatever means they can. La Riva described how the Mexican capital provided extensive services for the migrants, housing them in the city's stadium complex and providing medical treatment for people with stomach viruses, colds and dentistry needs, as well as optometrists, psychiatrists, psychologists and three meals a day.
The journalist said that Mexico's network of human rights commissions at the local, state and federal level "paved the way for the caravans" to Mexico City. Many of their activists are progressive people, and they "went right down to the Guatemalan border, and they have been travelling with them ever since. What they do is, they do a census of who's on the road, how many children — it's estimated there are 2,000 minors, including very young babies that we saw, like two months old, one was born on the road — and so what they do is, they tell the next town… they say, ‘Please, provide your biggest warehouse.' So in Cordoba, for example, there was a big stadium that was used. And the city governments have been helpful, too, but the Human Rights Commission has paved the way for them."
"So in each place, when they gather together, they get food, water, but it's still hard on the road. When we landed last Thursday, over a week ago, in Mexico City, we drove the next morning, and along the way as the sun was going down, we were surprised to see a group of almost 300 caravanistas who were stranded. They were walking; they had been walking more than 20 miles that day; they had had no water, no food, nothing," La Riva said. "And a girl crossed the highway and said, ‘Please can you give us a peso.' That's like five cents. So we drove miles away to a store, we bought all their ripe bananas we could find, all the water we could get and milk for the children, and we basically rehydrated them."
The Caravanistas: Fact and Fiction
La Riva said many of the people she'd talked to said they were fleeing from violence against them and their families and told her, "We can't survive anymore. There's no work at all. We have to find something."
La Riva said that, with the Trump administration closing the border for the next three months and making migrants who illegally enter the United States through the southern border with Mexico ineligible for asylum, it fell upon communities along the border and pro-immigrant activists inside the US to mobilize in defense of, and to show solidarity with, the caravanistas and turn the tide of public opinion against the Trump administration and the media's portrayal of the caravan as a "horde of invaders."
However, even before the Department of Justice's Friday decision, La Riva said, "to be considered for asylum is a very hard thing in the United States, especially if you come from south of the border, from Central America or Mexico. You have to prove that you are a direct victim of violence, that one of your family members was killed or something. You have to have documentation of that. You can't, for example, say that you can't survive economically in your country."
"There were a number of activists who were going around with advice. They would have several orientations during the day here in the camp, saying, ‘We're going to tell you the legal aspects [of applying for asylum]. If you do not have proof of being a victim of violence in your country, you likely will not be granted asylum. You will likely be put in jail. You may very well have your children separated from you.' It was a very sad thing to see groups of people hearing this news."
"But I think the strength, for them, is in the numbers and the fact that they've been so visible. And just that first picture that we saw, of the thousands crossing that bridge, when they were 7,000 people marching, that was impressive. And for those who don't have a racist outlook, it hits you that this must be a very bad situation for them. And that's what we have to do in our media, in our activity as activists," La Riva told Sputnik.