The radical activist leading the latest massive migrant caravan from Mexico to the US was once sentenced to 40 years in prison and has already led tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the border.
Luis García Villagrán, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian who hails from Mexico, was at the forefront of mass migration again this week, bringing an estimated 8,000 migrants on Christmas Eve through Mexico to an already crisis-ridden U.S. border — and predicting the number of seekers a refuge can easily almost double to 15,000 down the road.
“We’re trying to help the people who are least protected, especially migrant women and children,” the media-savvy frontman told The Daily Caller in a July 2022 interview. “We’re just enforcing what’s in the law.
Villagran, who heads the Center for Human Dignity, boasted at the time that he had directed 40,000 migrants to the border since September 2021 — a figure that has multiplied since then and is expected to grow even more in the coming weeks and months.
The organizer told the publication that he was not funded or supported by outside organizations – and was motivated by his faith and belief in the right of migrants to leave their impoverished origins.
Villagran was previously arrested in the Mexican state of Chiapas in 1997 on kidnapping and conspiracy charges, allegations he denied. He was convicted by a judge and sentenced to 40 years behind bars, but working with several human rights groups, he appealed his case and was eventually released in 2010.
The activist, who runs his group with his wife Marta Martínez de la Fuente, said he was tortured while in custody — and that those past struggles also fueled his mission.
The activist said he was “stigmatized as dangerous and taken to maximum security prisons until [Inter-American Commission on Human Rights] demanded my freedom.
Villagran suffered a detached retina while in solitary confinement and claims the condition was left untreated, resulting in the loss of vision in one eye.
“The damage was repaired and that’s where the Center for Human Dignity was born,” he said.
A 2021 profile in the Mexico Daily described Villagran and fellow organizer Irineo Mujica as media-savvy tacticians trying to manage perceptions of the migrant movement in addition to the thousands in charge.
“Garcia is more pastor than protester: thoughtful, eloquent, cold-blooded,” the publication wrote. “They both understand the power of public opinion and have a flair for politics and an eye for the camera.”
As for his caravan this Christmas season, “Today we are the poorest of the poorest of those who are at the peak of need, those of us who don’t have money to pay for visas or poleros,” Villagran said, referring to people smugglers.
Villagran has openly criticized US immigration policy in the past, calling it “dominant” and driven by a desire to “enforce”.
There were approximately 2 million encounters with migrants at the US southern border in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
Nearly a quarter of a million migrants crossed the perimeter in November alone, a new peak for the month and the third highest number on record.
“We will not be stopped, we will keep going,” Villagran vowed over the weekend, according to a Reuters report.