Members of a caravan of Central American migrants walk to the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in April. / Photo by David Maung

For decades, Central Americans have been making the trek through Mexico to the U.S. border. The journey is perilous – countless migrants have died and disappeared along the way, not to mention extorted, raped, robbed and sometimes mutilated by the freight train they rode north.

Years ago, they started traveling in groups for safety and to draw attention to their plight. But it was this year, when the two largest caravans captured the attention of the American public and the wrath of the Trump administration.

The roughly 1,500-person caravan that embarked from southern Mexico in the spring spurred the government’s zero-tolerance policy, which resulted in a surge of illegal entry misdemeanor prosecutions that has crippled San Diego’s federal court system, as well as separations of children from their parents. The resulting family separations evoked so much rage from many in the American public that the administration ended the policy, even before it was ordered to by a court. Now, that caravan’s members are dispersed throughout Mexico, the United States and some have even already been deported back to Central America.

In October, another caravan of roughly 6,000 people made its way through Mexico. Thousands remain there, trying to decide what to do next. They face a months-long wait to request asylum at a port of entry – the “legal” way (many experts believe the Trump administration’s position that requesting asylum between ports of entry is itself illegal). Many have applied for visas in Mexico and are starting to work, some have tried to cross between ports of entry to be able to request asylum more quickly and others have initiated hunger strikes and marches to compel the U.S. and Mexican governments to more quickly processing their visas and asylum claims.

One of the marches, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, resulted in a historical rarity – officials shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry for five hours, after some migrants who were protesting ran around a Mexican Federal Police blockade and toward the port of entry.

The two caravans – and particularly the second one – have forced a reckoning over many long-simmering tensions, from the bottleneck of asylum claims to forcing Tijuanenses to grapple with their own feelings about immigrants and their place at the United States’ front door.

This is part of our 2018 Voice of the Year list, profiling the people who kick-started San Diego’s biggest civic discussions over the past year.

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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