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Stories from the Southern Border

On Oct. 12, 2018, a group of 160 Honduran migrants fled on foot from their hometown of San Pedro Sula with the hope of eventually presenting themselves for asylum in the U.S. What originally began as a group of 160 migrants quickly turned into 7,000 in a matter of days, now including asylum-seekers from the countries of Guatemala and El Salvador.

 

Over the next month, the migrant group—composed of families, unaccompanied minors, and young adults from the most violent pockets of the region—would trek more than 2,700 miles through the rest of the Central American corridor and into Mexico, eventually arriving at the San Ysidro Port of Entry by mid-November. 

Also drawing attention were the conditions said to have been motivating this perilous journey north: entrenched poverty, surging levels of violence, and a generalized sense of insecurity. For those observing, this caravan visibly marked the latest development of the contemporary humanitarian crisis at the U.S. Southern Border. 

 

Yet, following this initial flood of media attention, what has become of this “crisis” at the Southern Border? How have the lives of these asylum-seekers and those that have followed, fared over time? 

 

While public salience surrounding the matter remains high, media coverage of their status has considerably dwindled since then. Meanwhile, in the three years that have followed, Central American migrants (among many other groups) have continually fled from their homes in record numbers, even throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, there are an estimated 470,000 active asylum-seekers from Central America, a substantial number of which are concentrated along various Mexican Border cities from Tijuana to Matamoros. 

 

With an immigration system geared for mass detention and deportation, this vulnerable collection of families and  individuals has been mostly met with clogged legal proceedings and unfavorable rulings. As of 2019, the acceptance rate for asylum applications has declined to a recent low of 5.5%—the average across El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—compared to 26.7% in 2016. Put differently, out of more than 139,000 asylum applications received by the U.S. in 2019, only a little over 7,600 individuals were granted asylum.

 

Now, amid a new administration that campaigned on the promise of securing the basic rights of asylum seekers, as well as talk of immigration reform, it’s more essential than ever to hear first-hand from the lived experiences of these individuals. While not exhaustive, this project intends to carefully illustrate a few of these narratives—the displacement, the precarities and violences encountered, and the continued yearning for safety. Here are their stories, from the Southern Border.