The Migrant Caravan in Data

The Migrant Caravan in Data

Stories of human migration are as compelling as they are divisive. When the news broke that there was a caravan of thousands of migrants heading for the US border via Mexico, President Donald Trump stoked fears, calling it an »invasion« of »stone cold criminals«. But migration also provides us with data that tells us the real story.

Prejudices are stoked by inflaming people’s assumptions of these groups. With the addition of Monica Rodriguez to the Infographics Group team, we saw an opportunity to explore what data is relevant to a migration story.

On November 26, 2018, the Mexican government announced the deporting the hundreds of central American refugees posted at American border at Tijuana, Mexico, after a week of confrontation. It’s estimated that around 500 people will be sent back to Honduras after they violently attempted to cross the border. US border agents responded with tear gas.

The deportees have already had a long and arduous journey behind them and are being returned to an uncertain future.

On October 13, 2018, a group of people from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, began a journey crossing Guatemala and Mexico to the USA. In response, US President Donald Trump has deployed troops to the border to prevent what he calls an »invasion«.

Usually Mexico is a country to pass through on the way to the U.S. as migrants hopefully pursue the American Dream. However, this is the first time Mexico has ever received such a large group of Central American refugees. The local government has responded by offering them aide to achieve their goal, including shelter, clothing, medicine and even some transport. Unfortunately where they arrived in Tijuana cases of xenophobia and anti-migration groups demonstration as well.

How long does it take to get to the border?

We used original reporting and a widely-reported map provided by MSF to create a more accurate visualization of the route taken by the »migrant caravan«, including the hills and valleys. José L. Michelena, head of communications with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Mexico, told our infographic designer Monica Rodriguez that even that one route can have multiple pathways.

The routes that appear have been used for many years and are based mainly on the different railway lines of the country, as well as the most common stages of the journey. But all that information is in the public domain and was not determined by MSF. We simply compiled it and offered it to people for information and guidance.José L. Michelena, (Communication Manager in Doctors Without Borders Mexico, MSF)

Chasing the American Dream

The long road to the US is dangerous. To reach the border, they will face many of the social conditions that have driven the violence they are escaping in their home countries, including poverty, corruption, drug-trafficking cartels. Nature – in terms of weather and animals along the way – also poses a danger.

Road aspects

The groups started in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Local media initially reported that as many as 1,000 people set off on foot to cross Central America. The most violent city in the world for several years (2011-2014), according to the Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justices. Today, it has dropped in the ranking but so has its population as its residents flee poverty and violence. By the time the group had crossed Guatemala, there were an estimated 7,000 people crossing into Mexico at Ciudad Hidalgo.

Nationalities in exodus

More caravans have since followed the first group’s trail.


In an attempt to stoke fear, President Donald Trump told the American press that »A fairly big percentage of those people are criminals.« While a large majority are young men, there are also many young families in the caravan, looking for a better future.

Composition of the Migrant Caravan

These are people leaving home because they believe they have no future. Their hometowns have been destroyed by cartels that battle for territory across borders, leaving little room for legitimate opportunities. Families leave because – if they don’t – it is very likely their children will join the ranks or fall victim to their violence.

An overview of violence

But escaping Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is not a guarantee for safety. There are still several dangers along the way, which have all contributed to Mexico being the second-most dangerous country in the world.

A Long and Dangerous Road

Extreme Nature: Mexico’s varied terrain is also home to wild and mixed flora and fauna.

Organized Crime: Drug Cartels and other criminals are famous for kidnapping people as a recruitment method. Police offer little protection as they are often working for the criminal organizations.

Cartels: There are at least six violent cartels that have divided Mexico up into territories. The whole country is controlled one way or another by these groups.

Street violence: Other criminal behavior — such as assault, robbery, murder, kidnapping and rape — occur at high rates in Mexico.

Smugglers and the beast: Typically, immigrants take »La Bestia«, a freight train that travels across Mexico. While its faster, it’s still packed with danger including extreme temperatures, no food or water and the possibility of going overboard.

Once at the border, people can apply for asylum at the immigration office. However, until those applications are processed, those people are stuck in limbo in Tijuana, which was ranked as third-most violent city in the world. The U.S. only accepts a certain number of asylum applications per year. In 2016, the Republican-led Congress reduced the number from 70,000 to 50,000. Of those, less than half were approved for asylum.

Asylum in the USA

How many are already there?


  • Hemerographic Documentation
  • Pueblo sin Fronteras (NGO)
  • Médicos Sin Fronteras (NGO)
  • Estancia del Migrante González y Martínez (Organization)
  • Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law. The University of Texas at Austin
  • Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal A.C
  • Instituto Nacional de Migración México
  • COLEF Colegio de la Frontera Norte (North Border College, Tijuana)
  • Professor on Migration Studies, Eduardo Elias Gutierrez
  • Secretaria de Gobernación/Gobierno de la CDMX


  • Research and infographics: Mónica A. Rodríguez S.
  • Editor: Sabine Devins
  • Blog Editor: Michael Kreil
  • Cartography: Anja Rieckert
  • Illustrations: Taisia Tikhnovetskaya
  • Journalist: Miriam Domínguez (Information from Mexico)
  • Photography: Nicolás Tavira