Originally published by The Washington Post
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.”
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.”