From the Central American caravans trekking desperately northward to the mass exodus from crisis-stricken Venezuela, 2018 was the year the migration crisis swept the Americas and finally reached the doorstep of the United States.
Scenes of Syrian and African refugees risking their lives
to reach Europe’s shores had a
local equivalent this year in the
masses of Central Americans
who travelled more than a
month to the US-Mexican border, many carrying young children or pushing them in strollers. Playing to the same antiimmigrant sentiment leveraged by Europe’s far right, US
President Donald Trump called
it an “invasion,” sought to overhaul US asylum policy and deployed thousands of troops to
Among the lasting images of
2018 are seas of dogged migrants walking in flip-flops or
flimsy plastic shoes; crying children taken from their parents
and held in cage-like enclosures under the Donald Trump
administration’s since-abandoned practice of separating undocumented families; and hundreds of desperate migrants
rushing the US-Mexican border, only to be battled back with
Latin Americans have long
migrated to the United States
– half a million Central Americans cross Mexico each year to
chase their ‘American dreams’
– but they used to do it in secret.
This was the first time the US
had confronted such a large,
visible influx of Central Americans, as people fleeing poverty
and violence used social media
to organise themselves into caravans, seeking protection
from kidnapping, extortion and
murder by crime gangs that
prey on migrants.
For Trump, it played into his
political message at the height
of an election season.
“If you want to protect criminal aliens – VOTE DEMOCRAT.
If you want to protect Law-Abiding Americans – VOTE REPUBLICAN!” he tweeted on November 3, three days before the
US midterm elections.
Trump’s party lost control of
the House of Representatives in
the elections – though it gained
seats in the Senate, enabling
him to claim his nationalism
had resonated with voters.
Facing a new political reality,
Trump has threatened to partly
shut down the federal government by refusing to sign a spending bill if Congress does not
give him US$5 billion to build
his much-wanted border wall.
For the migrants now stuck
on the border, the choices are
bleak: join the huge lines to enter the United States legally and
file long-shot asylum applications; sneak across and hope
for the best; settle in Mexico; or
In the wider region, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the
country’s economic and political implosion meanwhile swelled to 2.3 million since 2015.
The once-wealthy oil-producing country has veered
toward the brink of collapse
under leftist President Nicolás
Maduro, who won a new sixyear term in May in a widely
condemned election marred
Carmen Fuenmayor, 57, a
teacher, joined the exodus but
returned to Venezuela after nine months struggling to find
work. She will spend Christmas alone this year. Her
daughters are still in Ecuador.
“They have their lives. I decided mine was here in Venezuela,” she said.
The exodus of Venezuelans
has stoked tension across the
In Brazil, an angry mob in the
border town of Pacaraima set
fire to Venezuelan migrant
camps in August, chasing out
In Peru, where 600,000 Venezuelans have fled, the government last month began requiring passports for those who
would follow them.
A court blocked a similar
measure in Ecuador.
Numbers for Argentina are
hard to come by, but national
migration officials say some
99,435 Venezuelan citizens have settled (temporarily or permanently) in Argentina since
2006. Since the start of 2017,
some 50,000 are believed to have entered Argentina, though it
is unknown how many left in
that time as well.
Colombia has opened its
doors to the most: today, nearly
one million Venezuelan immigrants already live in the country, which has a total population
of around 50 million.
Government officials said
that last week that if the crisis
continued at its current rate, as
many as four million Venezuelans could be living in Colombia