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Forecast Podcast: Thousands join US-bound migrant caravan in southern Mexico as regional leaders consider immigration policies

A photo of the back of a women's head, her hair in braids. There are small hands of a child on her back as they hug. The two sit on a metal bench in a facility that processes migrants.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno discuss the U.S.-bound migrant caravan on the move in southern Mexico, plus more on demonstrations against gun violence across the United States, Norwegian oil and gas workers threatening to strike, the FDA reviewing coronavirus vaccines for small children and two Saudi government delegations visiting the US.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode includes work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Irene Villora, David Wyllie, Alex Moore and Jaime Calle Moreno. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.

Podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is June 9th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got demonstrations against gun violence across the United States, Norwegian oil and gas workers threatening to strike, the FDA reviewing coronavirus vaccines for small children, two Saudi government delegations visiting the US and what could be the largest-ever migrant caravan headed for the US border. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

March for Our Lives

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Hundreds of demonstrations against gun violence are planned for Saturday across the United States. 

The demonstrations, many organized by the group March for Our Lives, come in the wake of mass shootings last month at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. 

Combined, those two shootings alone left some 32 people dead and at least 20 others injured.

The day of action also comes more than four years after the first march, organized by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17 others. 

David Hogg, one of the group’s founders, has also urged people outside the country to protest at U.S. embassies, saying “we must make the fact that our government has done nothing to protect our kids even more of an international embarrassment.”    

Now, the 2018 protests marked the largest youth-led demonstrations since the Vietnam War era, but the expected size of Saturday’s marches is still unclear. 

Organizers said they’ve also made plans to meet with more than 50 lawmakers in their latest push for gun control legislation.

Norway oil and gas workers threaten strike

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Norwegian oil and gas workers could go on strike Sunday over a wage dispute.

More than 600 employees of the fossil fuels sector are demanding a pay rise above inflation levels and some additional benefits. State-led mediation efforts started in May. 

If the round of negotiations scheduled to start on Sunday fails, strike actions will be implemented in at least 10 offshore oil production platforms and three mobile service units.

Now, the unions threatening to strike have so far said they intend to avoid disruptions of gas production, citing the ongoing supply shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. 

Oil output, however, is likely to be affected. That’s likely to aggravate soaring global energy prices. 

Finally, workers have also warned of escalation if further pressure is necessary to achieve their demands.

FDA to review Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for small children

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s expert committee will host an open meeting Wednesday. They’ll review new data and discuss the approval of coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer for young children.

The committee will first meet Tuesday to discuss whether to extend Moderna’s emergency use authorization regarding vaccines for children aged six to 17 years old.  

It will then consider on Wednesday whether to approve a request for Moderna’s vaccine to be used on children aged 6 months to 5 years, and it will also consider the use of Pfizer’s vaccine for those aged 6 months through 4 years.  

Now, the FDA is not obligated to follow the recommendations of the committee, but it usually does

It will also decide whether to authorize the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines within days of each other, giving parents the opportunity to choose between two options if they are both approved and potentially leading to a rollout in the first weeks of summer.

Two Saudi delegations to visit U.S.

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Two Saudi government delegations will reportedly visit the United States next Wednesday. One led by Riyadh’s commerce minister and another by its investment minister.

According to Reuters, the delegations will involve Saudi company executives and topics of discussion will include agreements in several sectors, including renewable energy. 

The visit directly follows a decision by OPEC+ to boost oil production as well as an announcement that Riyadh had extended a truce with Yemen’s Houthis. Both decisions drew praise from Washington

Now, the visit signals a détente between the Biden administration and Riyadh may be underway after bilateral ties were strained

Further reporting indicates that a trip by President Biden to Saudi Arabia could come as soon as July and include a meeting with the crown prince and de-facto ruler. 

While proponents of thawing relations say it is necessary to bring down surging energy prices, critics have urged Biden to forgo the visit on human rights grounds.

Migrant caravan in southern Mexico

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the migrant caravan currently moving through southern Mexico. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Jaime Calle Moreno.

JIMMY: Hello, Jaime. 

JAIME: Hi, Jimmy, how’s it going? 

JIMMY: Pretty well, thank you. You know, let’s just jump right into things. We’re talking about a migrant caravan today, but those aren’t exactly new. There’s been a number of caravans over the last handful of years. In fact, just about six months ago Irene was here on the podcast discussing a caravan that was moving through Mexico City. So I guess my question for you is, why is this new caravan giving so much attention?

JAIME: So, I think the reason that this caravan, this migrant caravan, is getting so much attention, which set off on Monday, is because of its sheer size. So, reports indicate that the caravan could reach up to 15,000 people, which would make it one of the, or the, largest migrant caravan to date since the phenomenon caught the eye of the public a couple of years back, maybe starting late 2017. It seems that a large majority of it as well consists of families from a plethora of countries in the Americas, the Caribbean and even in Africa.

JIMMY: It’s gotta be a terribly difficult journey for a lot of these folks. Do we know what kind of conditions they’re encountering? 

JAIME: Well, the journey starts a while back for most of these migrants with large amounts of Central Americans and Venezuelans, specifically arriving from the Guatemalan border near Quetzaltenango and settling in the city of Tapachula in Mexico’s southernmost state Chiapas. That city itself is described by migrants, residents, human rights activists and caravan organizers alike as a “prison city,” and migrants feel they’re being kept there in silence in a place that processes around 70% of migrants entering Mexico. The city and its migration institutions are absolutely overwhelmed, with migrants having to wait countless months or even years in pretty dire conditions for asylum papers or work permits that have little or no chance of being given. To put it into context, the migration office received around 131,000 solicitations alone in 2021, which is double from a year before, and in the first trimester of this year it’s easy to tell that those numbers will again rise to record levels. Migrants are so fed up that I think, in February, a group of them had their mouths stitched publicly in front of the immigration office in protest, which is kind of a rare tactic migrants have used before and in other countries and circumstances. If they try to move from Tapachula, security forces capture them, in some cases beat them, and either send them back to their country of origin or back to Tapachula or imprison them. Now, the journey itself, as you mentioned, is pretty harrowing. Equipped with, kind of, plastic sheets or blankets and few necessary belongings, they’re prepared to walk close to 2,500 miles to reach the US border through intense heat exhaustion, sickness, jungle, rain – often sleeping on the ground with little food and barely any money to subsist. Now, if you add to this the sometimes physical response of security forces and, on occasion, armed groups in the region, it can become a very difficult journey with many of them turning back. 

JIMMY: This caravan is happening right at the same time as the Summit of the Americas is going on. Is that just a coincidence?

JAIME: So, not a coincidence at all. The caravan organizers have aptly scheduled it so it coincides during the actual talks. The aim is to put further pressure on leaders across the board to, kind of, push for a more inclusive regional migration policy that either solves the issues at hand or at least tries to. Now, the Summit of the Americas has already placed regional migration as a primary priority and so the hope is that by Friday when a consensus and solution is expected to be announced, this caravan can help push that forward. Now, interestingly, the US has barred Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela from attending the summit due to what they cite as lack of democratic governance and general human rights violations by those countries. This then led to Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to boycott the summit altogether and have his foreign secretary go in his place. This is on top of the fact that Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Bolivia will also not be attending due to the same exclusion and also because their leaders have some trouble with the US in general. Now, many of these countries are sending diplomats over to the summit anyway, and Mexico’s president is meeting Biden in July. But the case remains that many of these leaders are the same ones from where these migrants are running away from in droves and so many wonder how substantial this region migration policy will be without them and, in general, whether it will actually change the status quo whatsoever.

JIMMY: You know, I’m sure some of the migrants are simply looking for work or better opportunities, but I’ve also heard that quite a few in the caravan are hoping to apply for asylum, either in Mexico or in the US. Can you explain what those folks are fleeing from?

JAIME: Yeah, so you’re absolutely right. The majority are indeed asylum seekers. Now, to begin with, a large amount are escaping a very troubled Venezuela that has for years seen economic collapse intertwined with widespread violence and insecurity, which has led to extreme shortages in food, medicine, essential supplies, housing, electricity, fuel – you name it. Now, millions are fleeing from the country making it one of the largest displacements currently ongoing across the globe. Honduras, especially, but also El Salvador, Guatemala and also Haiti, suffer similar economic conditions, but they’re paired with an embedded armed group and drug cartel presence that not only skyrockets homicides to extremely high rates, but also makes everyday life just very difficult. These places – entire neighborhoods are controlled by these cartels and gangs and they tax everything from bakeries to local shops to public transport users and drivers. Now, without the necessary economic backdrop to fight it, it’s a cycle of violence and hardship that is difficult to change even generationally. Add to this the heightened and more violent natural disasters, in a large part due to climate change and its repercussions, and these underlying issues are then exacerbated and further pushes people to the brink that forces them to attempt these journeys. It’s also worth noting that this caravan is only a very, very small percentage of people attempting to cross borders and so the majority do it with illegal traffickers, typically referred to as coyotes, which leads to much rougher conditions in the journey and very often death. Now, these migrants in the caravan – again mostly families – just don’t want to take that risk.

JIMMY: Assuming the Mexican authorities don’t move in and disperse the caravan, possibly by force, as you’ve said they’ve done with other caravans, do we know what’s going to happen with the migrants when they make it to the US border?

JAIME: You know, it’s difficult to tell, but it’s clear that the US won’t accept up to 15,000 migrants in one go, right? There is hope that by the time they reach the southern border, which will undoubtedly anyways take weeks, that regional policy from the summit will allow them to maybe reenter their asylum applications and hopefully there’s a sort of streamlined process that allows them to wait for shorter periods of time. Now, apart from the current and complex immigration law, the US has a law that specifically, under Title 42, deals with public health that mentions the US can lawfully remove or reject any person or individual who has been in a country where a communicable or contagious disease has been present. Now, because of COVID-19, this law has been used by the previous administration to reject any person trying to enter the US by bypassing health screening or even, in the case with this caravan, blocking any attempt of lawful petitions for asylum seekers. Now, what it does is that these migrants and asylum seekers are either immediately sent back to the transit country or they’re transported directly to the country of origin from which they’re fleeing from – directly, in a very, very quick process. The Biden administration maintained that program, and when they tried recently to lift Title 42, citing, kind of, mass anti-immigration laws in April, a federal judge in Texas blocked that lifting, citing that it violated administrative law and could technically cause irreparable harm through the spread of disease like COVID-19. This title still remains and so it’s gonna be pretty interesting to see how the regional policy of the summit counterbalances that. On Mexico’s side, though, authorities and security forces have been taking more of an observational approach to the caravan, creating space for them to travel and offering food and drinks to pregnant women, senior citizens and children among them.

JIMMY: I suspect we’ll get a clearer picture about the fate of the caravan in the days and weeks ahead, but in the meantime what do you think folks should be watching for?

JAIME: So, clashes typically erupt when the migrant caravan reaches large population areas like we saw in Mexico City and in Guatemala over the past couple of months, or once they reach the actual border. Security forces are typically equipped with riot gear and shields and the use of tear gas is common, and also batons to kind of break large crowds up, especially if things get heated, with such a harrowing journey ahead of them. The last thing that kind of breaks the camel’s back is a strong response from the police. This caravan, though, may be slightly different, just because of its sheer size and the safety that that size grants. A crowd of 15,000 people can be extremely difficult to disperse and if attempted not only will incite violence from the migrants themselves and make the whole situation worse, but the entire world will be watching because of its size. So while clashes may not directly affect the Caravan, we should watch for armed groups in the area attempting to kidnap stragglers, clashes that arise from small groups breaking away from the caravan and, in general, police or security forces that are just trying to control what is already a massive group of people moving.

JIMMY: Well, Jaime, we are out of time unfortunately, but I and I’m sure our listeners thank you greatly for the update. Such an important story.

JAIME: Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode includes work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Irene Villora, David Wyllie and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Jaime Calle Moreno and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top photo: A child hugs a woman in March 2021 while waiting at the temporary processing facilities in Donna, Texas, where U.S. Border Patrol processes family units and unaccompanied children (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Jaime Rodriguez Sr.)

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