As we near the midterm elections, thousands of primarily Honduran Central Americans are walking and hitchhiking through Mexico. 160 people initially departed the city of San Pedro Sula, murder capital of the world for the first half of our decade. As the caravan trekked through their towns and its message was spread on the news and online, people joined them on the way.
Some will apply for asylum (political protection from returning to their homeland) once they get to the USA, almost two thousand are just choosing to stay in Mexico, about 500 have decided to head back home, but most are heading for the United States. Estimations of the caravan vary largely, but the UN last said there were about 7,200 on October 22nd. Fleeing poverty, persecution, crime, gangs, unemployment, and (often gender-based) violence, they choose to travel in a large group because of a continued desire for safety: Offering some protections from kidnapping, rape, and extortion, caravans keep members from having to pay human smugglers and from falling prey to gangs that use vulnerable migrants to transport drugs.
Mexican government crackdowns on behalf of the American government have in fact made the journey even more dangerous for smaller groups because the migrants rely even more heavily on these manipulative and unreliable smugglers.
None of the caravan members expected was for their existence to be politically divisive, yet their migration has been sensationalized to strengthen the GOP’s base. Firstly, this is being done through tons of propaganda. False pictures, claims, and videos of their assaulting police officers, receiving supplies from George Soros (one of the pipe bombs sent out, currently believed by Cesar Sayoc, was delivered to Soros’s house) or the Democrats at large (Trump even claims the caravan was started and funded by the party) are being spread. They claim the migrants to have diseases, trains at their disposal to carry them in just a few says (they mostly walk and sometimes hitchhike), and a predilection for burning flags.
The funniest claim is that they’re smuggling drugs, as if lots of attention and scrutiny is the ideal for smugglers.
Trump has accused the caravans of trying to orchestrate “an assault on our country”. He continued his famous narrative of Hispanic immigrants as criminals, and claimed, with no evidence (and none has since been found), the existence of Middle Easterners in the group (though about .5% of total Mexican border apprehensions are from Africa and Asia, why this is a particularly bad thing has not been explained). When Trump vows to send troops to the border to keep the migrants out, his supporters cheer. But even without the military, there’d be no way for the caravan to push through forcefully. And that they would even try is extremely unlikely, considering they want to lawfully join society through asylum.
But this view on Central American migrants and refugees at large as a bunch of stragglers with no communities or values is far from the truth. In fact, while illegal immigration has not risen, the proportion of aforesaid immigrants who are families is extremely high; up from 17% in 2013, children and families now make up the majority of arrested illegal immigrants while less single adults are crossing over. While the caravan is composed largely of young men, there are also a lot of families. And they just want to be safe; this often means filing for asylum.
The United States has an international legal obligation to consider granting asylum to all those who declare it, so Trump has been trying to dissuade people from doing so by trying to deport them or treating them harsher, although the second hasn’t worked (Obama also tried it by trying to expand family detention a couple years back). Trump’s border policy has made it harder for people to receive asylum, putting the lives of many at risk while custom officials attempt to delay the asylum process.
Additional barriers include Jeff Sessions’s announcement in June that “the "credible fear" asylum rule has been exploited in the past, and... that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence would no longer generally qualify under it.” - But understandably, this hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Often people cross the border illegally because despite being obligated to, the border won’t allow them to claim asylum. While waiting in Mexico to be accepted, in conjunction with US wishes, Mexican officials will sometimes deport or harass those that intend to apply. They simply disappear- thus, through politically charged visibility, this caravan gains some security in that what happens to it will be accountable. Since Mexico has already stated it will deport all who do not file asylum in their own country (an extremely backlogged process), and refuses to give visas, crossing illegally is what many are willing to do if denied the chance to file or enter. They are then allowed to apply for asylum on the other side of the border (you can also apply without papers), and face the consequences for illegal entry while applying. But even asylum is not an easy answer. Everyone takes the credible fear interview. If they pass, they will either “be held in detention or released in the US and face an immigration court months, but more likely years, later.”
This is all critical incredibly important for the midterms. Amidst some controversies, republicans are looking for reelection. This lucky headline in their desire to show that Trump has and will continue to follow through on his campaign promises. Trump promised tighter immigration- letting less people in, cracking down on illegal immigration. Videos of the migrants, often not even of them but passed as so, stir fear in the subconscious of republicans (both those that lean right and extremists) and inspire them to vote. Sometimes, it inspires even more. The Tree of Life shooter was furious at HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, because “HIAS likes to bring invaders (caravan members) in that kill our people.” He then said “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optic, I’m going in.”
The idea of the caravan as an invasion means that America should vote in a defensive context-- and defensive, in every example in history, whether it be Ottoman or Chinese or American, means conservative. Even though asylum seeking, which many caravan members intend to do, is perfectly legal, Trump is not framing it that way, and it may just inspire Republican to vote, securing their hold on power for, at the very least, the next two years. Who knows how many asylum seekers will die waiting in the meantime.