For Central American migrants and asylum seekers on their way north, recent weeks have brought policies narrowing their legal avenues to life in the United States.
Then, on Saturday, came another threat to their dreams of refuge north of the U.S.-Mexico border: The killing of 22 people at a shopping center in El Paso, minutes after the online appearance of a manifesto complaining about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Eight Mexicans were killed in the attack.: mass shooting mass shootingRemove term: Meico MeicoRemove term: migrants migrantsRemove term: Texas TexasRemove term: United States
For those who heard about the event, it was another moment to rework the calculus that underpinned their decision to migrate. Was now the right time to move their families to the United States?
“It seems anyone with mental problems can buy a gun and kill people,” said Katerine Morales, 28, a Nicaraguan asylum seeker waiting in southern Mexico with plans to travel to the U.S. border. “I never understood that.”
Morales had heard vague details about the El Paso attack through other migrants in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It was part of the paradox of the United States, as she saw it, a country reckoning with its own problems of violence, but where law and order and economic opportunity seemed to prevail.
Compared with Nicaragua, where she said she was attacked by soldiers after attending protests against President Daniel Ortega last year, the United States remains a dream.
“If I return home, I’ll be killed or jailed,” she said. “The U.S. still offers me stability.”
Rodrigo Carrillo, a coffee farmer in the Guatemalan state of Huehuetenango, has lived as an undocumented immigrant in the United States and is considering a return. He said that “everyone has a destiny.”
“If my destiny is to be shot in the United States, that’s it.”
Most migrants who have traveled to the United States in the past two years began their journeys with at least a vague sense of President Trump’s views on migration. Those with easier access to the Internet or television heard some of the specifics: His likening of migrant caravans to “invasions” or his claim that Mexicans were criminals and rapists.
They decided to migrate not because of Trump, but despite him. Some because they were fleeing certain death from armed groups or hostile governments. Others because they knew they could earn more money picking grapes in California or building homes in Texas than they could by doing similar work at home.
“Migrants in the United States have always lived with the terror that they could be victims of hate crimes,” said Ruben Figueroa, an activist with the migrant rights group Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano in Mexico. “For those in transit, they are leaving barbarity in their countries of origin, and their focus is on leaving.”
Still, the El Paso attack was a moment for some to weigh the risks of life in their own countries against the risks of living as an immigrant in the United States.
“I don’t understand if these are terrorist attacks, if the people are mentally ill or just racist,” said Carrillo, the coffee farmer.
Carrillo arrived at the border in June. He was told to wait three months for his hearing under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols — known as “Remain in Mexico” — and chose to return to Guatemala instead.
“But my country has discrimination, too, and it has no work. At least in the United States there is work,” he said.
A Guatemalan government official echoed Carrillo’s sentiment.
“We need to be honest and admit that our country is racist, too,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There is discrimination against indigenous people. There is violence.
“The migrants say, “If I stay here, I’m risking my life, so I might as well try to get to the United States, even if there are problems there.”
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said Monday that Mexico would consider requesting the extradition of the shooter. Ebrard said the decision would be left to the country’s attorney general. He said Mexico had the right to make the request because the killing was an act of terrorism under Mexican law.
“We consider this to be an act of terrorism, carried out on United States soil, but terrorism against Mexicans,” he said.
“This is important because Mexico definitely will participate in this process — in the judicial process, in the investigation, in gathering the information, and later in the judgment, because there are eight Mexicans who lost their lives.”
Ebrard also said Mexico “will definitely present a case against the sale and distribution of weapons like the assault rifle that ended the lives of the eight Mexicans.”
Some migrants on their way to the United States, or considering the journey, had not heard about the El Paso mass shooting. Some weren’t paying attention to the news in the United States. Others didn’t have Internet access.
But when they were told about the attack, they weren’t surprised.
“The United States has always been against Latinos,” said Jose, a Salvadoran migrant in Guatemala who declined to use his last name out of concern for his security. “And it’s an error to maintain an armed population.
“That’s something I had to endure in El Salvador, too.”