The hour has passed for President Joe Biden’s administration to tell caravans not to make the journey north to the U.S. border.
That moment, if it ever existed, was during the campaign. Biden couldn’t have made it clearer that he was going to dismantle every vestige of the Trump administration’s immigration and border enforcement policy that he could while still being electable.
People heard: By early December, there were reports of large caravans leaving Central American countries such as Honduras for the United States. Yet it wasn’t until just before Inauguration Day that the incoming administration began messaging hard, urging migrants to stay in Central America. By then, it was too late.
According to NBC News, March will likely mark a decades-long high in Border Patrol encounters at the southern border, with more than 150,000 expected. In May 2019, at the height of former President Donald Trump’s biggest border crisis, there were just over 144,000 encounters. That was a 12-year high.
The question is whether that number was a sudden burst from pent-up demand to illegally immigrate from the Trump years or whether this will be a sustained problem for the Biden administration.
If you wanted evidence for the latter conclusion, all you had to do is look to the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
According to a computer translation of Univision’s coverage, that’s where a new migrant caravan set out from on Tuesday headed to the U.S. border. The migrants have since been stopped, at least for the moment. However, the formation of yet another caravan indicates just how Biden’s messaging on immigration is being perceived: as an open invitation, if not necessarily open borders.
The individuals in the caravan cited the usual reasons for leaving: poverty, a lack of job opportunities and the lingering damage from Hurricanes Eta and Iota last year. The migrant group was arranged via social media.
Reports of the caravan’s size varied. Univision estimated it was between 150 and 200 migrants, while the Honduran outlet La Tribuna put the number at 300, according to a Google translation. While those are small, keep in mind caravans can (and do) pick up steam. However, the number was lower than was predicted in previous days, where 1,000 to 2,000 migrants were expected.
The caravan headed to the border at Corinto in the state of Puerto Cortés, where it hoped to enter Guatemala. That’s a more dubious proposition than entering the United States, since Guatemala has defended its border against free passage for caravans in the past.
In anticipation of the caravan, the government issued a “state of prevention” on Monday due to pandemic concerns.
“Given the possible arrival of Salvadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants who would not comply with the legal requirements demanded by [the Guatemalan immigration and customs ministry] and the sanitary measures requested by [the Guatemalan health ministry], the Government of Guatemala declares five departments a state of prevention,” the government announced in a tweet, according to a computer translation.
“The state of prevention was declared in the Council of Ministers and will be in force within a period of 15 days from this Monday, March 29” in several border areas, it said.
El estado de prevención fue declarado en Consejo de Ministros y estará vigente en un plazo de 15 días a partir de este lunes 29 de marzo en Izabal, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso y Petén. https://t.co/uVnSaFaJSW
— Gobierno Guatemala (@GuatemalaGob) March 29, 2021
El Heraldo also reported that the governments of Mexico and Guatemala had met to “plan measures against the caravan,” given that the migrants would hit the Mexican border if they were able to enter Guatemala.
Before they could get to the Corinto crossing, however, Honduran police acted to turn them back, at least for the moment.
Reuters reported later on Tuesday that more than 90 percent of the migrants weren’t allowed to continue because they lacked negative COVID-19 tests or the necessary identification papers.
Those who didn’t have the necessary paperwork were driven the 70 miles back to San Pedro Sula.
This isn’t to prevent them from trying again, however, this time with more critical mass.
We saw how this worked back in January when thousands of migrants were able to breach the border and bypass COVID-19 testing. This was the scene at the border then:
Dramatic video shows people from the Honduran migrant caravan pushing past border control to cross into Guatemala. pic.twitter.com/GFLX4CRwyK
— The Hill (@thehill) January 17, 2021
However well-intentioned Honduran, Guatemalan and Mexican authorities may be at attempting to control mass migration during a pandemic, that kind of critical mass combined with violence tends to thwart intentions.
As Reuters noted, Biden has said he needs help from all of those governments, as well as El Salvador, to stem the migrant influx. He’ll need it, with the numbers we’re seeing at the border.
This caravan may have been turned back, but it can reform just as easily — and it won’t be the last one. After all, Joe Biden invited illegal immigrants before he realized, at the last minute, the party was way too big.
He can still put a stop to it, mind you, if he starts enforcing the law and reinstating policies such as “Remain in Mexico.” Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, though.
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