What began in October as a caravan of a few dozen Hondurans fleeing political persecution quickly grew into a transnational mobilization of thousands of families, and individuals—and a contentious international debate over human beings’ rights to seek refuge from escalating violence and poverty. Despite the obvious humanitarian concerns that such a large movement of people should generate, this exodus of asylum-seekers from Central America has garnered international attention largely because U.S. President Donald Trump used the migrants’ plight to bolster his administration’s anti-immigrant platform in the last stretch towards the U.S. Midterm elections.
The mass exodus caught the imagination of thousands of Hondurans who are desperate to flee escalating government repression, crushing economic inequality, inhumane living conditions, and ongoing criminal activity by drug cartels and gangs. The notion of fleeing together, keeping each other safe, and avoiding the human smuggling rings created a powerful magnet for people to join the caravan. More than a carefully planned action, the caravan should be understood as a spontaneous adaptation to desperate circumstances.
Over the past two years, many countries have been working within the framework of the United Nations to develop Global Compacts for “safe, orderly and regular migration” and “functional humanitarian protections” for migrants and refugees. As the caravans of Central Americans have moved northward, they have exposed the yawning gap that separates the world of politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats from the daily realities of people who seek a way out of increasingly dire conditions. This caravan, and the negative response it has sparked from politicians, serve as stark reminders of the political hurdles that must be overcome in order to create effective international regimes that actually protect the rights of people on the move across borders.
As organizations and individuals committed to justice, equity and a better way of life for communities across the Americas, we need to move beyond the immediate crisis to analyze the structural conditions of oppression that underpin it. On the eve of the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration, region-specific perspectives are all the more crucial to situate the unique challenges of our landscapes and to define the elements of the future we seek.
The question of human mobility weaves through all of these issues. Rethinking the value and role of human mobility in the migratory circuit that links the Caribbean, Central America, and North America must be a key element of this new paradigm for regional community wellbeing in our hemisphere. Insofar as the international community will move forward with implementation of a Global Migration Compact, they must also take these regional challenges into account.
The following ten areas mark a path toward a long-term vision for transformation in our hemisphere. Getting there will require a mix of urgency, patience, pressure, and creativity. It will require both national laws and effective regional and global governance. These initial pillars are mutually reinforcing, and if simultaneously advanced, they will lead us to fulfilling, sustainable and welcoming societies.
Moving these ideas from concept to reality will require social and political organizing at all levels, from local to global. A key step will be to recognize and build the organizing capacity of migrant communities so they can advocate in all the spheres of decision-making affecting their lives. We must also work together—across issues, across borders in creative new ways. Collective action spaces, such as the Global Coalition on Migration and Women in Migration Network, can help move the needle. These ten guideposts point a way forward, but we will not get there overnight. In the meantime, we should seek any and all steps forward that move us closer to the goal. Harmonizing our efforts to dream big, and build power to implement those dreams is the path toward the better future for communities across the region, and around the world.
Amy Shannon is Senior Advisor at ALIANZA AMERICAS. Its mission is to bring about a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable way of life for Latino immigrant communities living in the United States and across the Americas. By working transnationally with partners from civil society and government, organized labor and faith-based communities, they hope to create a more dignified and just way of life for all people living in the Americas.