Migrant caravan: What we know about the group traveling from Central America to the U.S.

Thousands of migrants from Central America are headed north through Mexico, riding buses, piling into trucks and walking toward America and a vision of a better life.

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As the group tries to make its way toward the United States’ southern border, the migration has become a political talking point in advance of the 2018 midterm elections two weeks from today.

Here’s what we know about the group headed toward the American border.

Who is in the caravan?

According to the United Nations, the caravan is made up of men, women and children mostly from Honduras, though some are Guatemalan and others are from El Salvador.

The U.N. had estimated the caravan at more than 7,000 when it left Honduras. Mexican officials say about 4,500 people are still headed north, after thousands sought asylum in Mexico.

President Donald Trump has said that there are also “criminals” and “unknown Middle Easterners” in the group, though on Tuesday he said he had no proof of that claim.

The publication Prensa Libre reported that Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales said "close to 100 people" in the group were linked to ISIS and had been detained and deported to their home countries.

When did they start north?

The group started their walk on Oct. 13 from Honduras.

Who organized the march?

No one has taken direct credit, but it is likely the leaders of Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or Peoples Without Borders, organized the march. For more than 15 years, Pueblos Sin Fronteras has led migrant groups to the U.S. to seek asylum. They organize groups of migrants for the journey north, keeping them together for safety reasons.

Why do they want to come to the United States?

Most of the migrants in the group are seeking asylum in the United States, saying they are being persecuted for their race, religion or because they belong to a certain social group or political party.

Others say increasing violence or the lack of economic opportunity has pushed them to try to gain entry into the United States.

Some in the caravan are looking to immigrate to Mexico.

What is asylum; how does the process work?

When someone is requesting asylum in the United States, they are asking for protection from a credible threat of harm against them in their native country. The threat can be because of their race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social or political group.

The U.S. government is bound by United Nations treaties and U.S. law to protect persecuted people who show up at the country’s border. Anyone seeking asylum in the U.S. must be granted an interview to determine if they are eligible to be considered for asylum.

To apply for asylum, immigrants must be physically present in the United States, meaning they must step foot on American soil. According to U.S. law, "Any alien who is physically present in the United States, or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum."

Asylum seekers must generally apply for the protection within one year of their arrival to the United States.

How is that different from being a refugees who wants to come to the United States?

A person who requests protection in the United States while still outside U.S. borders, and is then given permission to enter the United States is called a refugee.

"Refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to people who meet the definition of refugee and who are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, there is a cap on the number of refugees who may enter the United States in a given year. That number comes from the president's recommendation to Congress.

Both those seeking asylum and those who receive refugee status must prove they qualify for protection under U.S. law.

Has this happened before?

Yes, there have been many "refugee caravans" of people attempting to enter the United States. The last one was in April 2018.

What has the president threatened to do if the caravan makes it to the U.S. border?

Trump has said he will stop all payments to the countries that have allowed the migrants to head north toward the United States.

He has asked Mexico to put a stop to the migration and warned that if they refused to do so he would order U.S. troops to close the U.S. southern border.

"I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught — and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" Trump tweeted last week.

Can Trump close the border?

The president of the United States can close the country’s borders.

Can he order troops to the border to deal with the caravan?

Yes and no. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 restricts the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement under most circumstances, meaning they cannot act like a city's police force.

There is a caveat to the law which allows troops to be deployed if authorized by the Congress.

Troops can be sent in support of Border Patrol agents, but the military has no system to deal with asylum seekers.

National Guard members are more likely to be sent to patrol the country's border. National Guard members are under the command of a state's governor and can carry out "Homeland Defense activities."

It was the National Guard that was deployed to the border to help with the last caravan that came up from Central America in April.

Has the National Guard ever done something like this?

Yes, the Guard was deployed to protect the border in 2006 and in 2010. Both times the Guard supported Border Patrol with aerial surveillance, technical support, entry identification teams and other similar support.

What is Mexico doing?

The Mexican government said last week that it would request the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process applicants for refugee status at Mexico's southern border.

According to the country’s foreign ministry, Mexico will also join with government authorities of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help sort through the issues of the people in the caravan.

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