I Traveled With The Migrant Caravan—Here Is The Story Behind The Photographs | Opinion

I arrived in Ixtepec, a rural city deep in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, late at night without a hotel reservation. Only able to speak a little Spanish, I wasn't sure what to expect when I stepped off the plane, but I quickly found a taxi driver who was confident he could take me to the nearest hotel. Several hours later, I was walking with thousands of others, unsure of what lay ahead.

Though the migrants travel thousands of miles to reach the U.S.-Mexican border, a policy enacted by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes it difficult for them to seek asylum. Additionally, the Trump administration militarized the border and made the caravan of migrants a focal point of the recent midterm elections. Today, he threatened to close the border permanently, unless Mexico deports asylum seekers: "Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A.," he tweeted.

I was sent to Mexico on assignment as a staff photographer with Getty Images to document the treacherous journey of thousands of Central Americans who fled their homes in mid-October to escape unemployment and widespread violence in an attempt to seek a better life in the United States. I wanted to give context to the scope of the caravan, but also try to depict struggle of the individual. It was humbling being part of a broader story, chronicling the lives of migrants, and continuing the work that my colleague, John Moore, has dedicated over a decade to.

A child struggles with her mother as thousands of Central American migrants arrive into the small town of Santiago Niltepec on October 29, 2018 in Santiago Niltepec, Mexico. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After arriving in Niltepec in the morning, the members of the caravan had already walked for several hours. Initially, I was struck by the determination of the group who alternated between piling into the back of trucks and walking dozens of miles to reach their next destination. Mexican government officials tried to shepherd the migrants along a predetermined route, but it often proved to be haphazard and difficult to follow.

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Hundreds of members of the Central American migrant caravan move in the early hours toward their next destination on November 04, 2018 in Isla, Mexico. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

If I were asked to estimate, I would say that roughly 25-30 percent of the migrants were families with children. As the father of a young daughter, it was hard to watch the toll this odyssey for asylum had on children between the ages of three and six. In this photo, a man carried his son for close to two miles at 4 AM in silence, yet I didn't hear him complain once. The lack of proper nutrition, the brutal heat and the poor sanitary conditions makes the trek nearly impossible for these young children.

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Members of the Central American migrant caravan move in the early morning hours on November 05, 2018 in Cordoba, Mexico. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

At the other end of the age spectrum, there were several elderly folks who were being pushed in wheelchairs by friends and family members. I found this to be a Herculean effort, one that displays the epitome of unconditional love. Imagine making this journey for thousands of miles in dangerous conditions, knowing the chances you are granted asylum at the border are extremely slim.

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A man in a USA cap stops at a gas station in the middle of the day to take a break from walking. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Throughout the trip I was surprised by the amount of "USA" apparel the migrants were wearing. Here, this man is stopped at a gas station in the middle of the day taking a break from walking. Though the migrants are aware of the broad opportunities that a life in the U.S. has to offer, they didn't seem to be plugged into the day-to-day politics of the Trump administration. Though many were fatigued and battered by the experience, they often expressed a good deal of hope for what awaited them at the border.

Members of the Central American migrant caravan rest in a stadium after arriving into the Mexican capital yesterday on November 6, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When the caravan reached Mexico City, the strain of the journey on the migrants was tangible. Here, the migrants are taking part in some much-needed R&R, before they continue onto the last leg of their journey to Tijuana. At the stadium, the Mexican government had arranged workshops for kids, food was distributed, and cellphones were available. Some folks who arrived later in the day couldn't make it into the stadium and set up tents outside in an area cordoned off by the Mexican government.

Members of the Central American migrant caravan rest outside of a stadium after arriving into the Mexican capital the day before. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This weekend, as migrants reached the border, U.S. Border Patrol agents fired tear gas.

The desperation of the migrants that I met up close and personal is not fully realized by people watching at home.

Their trek for asylum is long and arduous and the time I spent with them made me cherish my citizenship, a status so many of us take for granted.

Spencer Platt is an award-winning photographer who joined Getty Images in 2000. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo and Ukraine. In 2007, he received the World Press Photo of the Year award for his picture of young Lebanese survivors surveying bombing damage in Beirut during the Lebanon-Israel crisis of 2006.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​