Immigrant Caravan Threatens Trump’s Pledge to Defend Border
-By Jim Owen
With thousands of Latinos marching in a so-called caravan toward the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump is facing a major challenge to his “no-tolerance” policy concerning illegal immigration.
Throughout the 2016 campaign and since entering the Oval Office, Trump has vowed to stop undocumented foreigners from entering the United States. The president accuses some border crossers of taking jobs away from native-born Americans and claims that others are criminals. He argues that taxpayers should not be forced to finance education, social programs and other services for poor people who leave their homelands.
Trump told USA Today that he would deploy military troops to stand in the way of the latest migrant “caravan,” which he described as “an assault on our country.”
What Is the Caravan?
Most of the 7,200 people taking part in the caravan are families with children, who fled their native countries because of poverty, violence, and corruption. Initially consisting of Hondurans, the throng grew to include citizens of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. After overwhelming Mexican authorities on the Guatemalan border, the marchers resumed their arduous journey toward Texas – more than 1,000 miles away.
It was not the first time in 2018 that a large group moved through Mexico with hopes of gaining asylum in the United States. A migrant-assistance organization called Pueblo Sin Fronteras coordinated a similar event earlier in the year that involved fewer people.
Trump, on social media and at campaign rallies, has blamed the situation on Latin American governments. He recently threatened to cut off military and humanitarian aid to the countries because the United States has gotten “nothing” in return for the payments.
How Are Others Reacting?
The president also has criticized his political opponents in the United States, accusing Democrats of having “had something to do” with mass immigration like the caravan. At a campaign event for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas, Trump slammed Democrats for failing safeguard the nation’s “sovereignty.” Cruz said the situation at the border is a result of laws enacted by Democratic politicians and rulings handed down by liberal judges.
Many GOP lawmakers support Trump’s position. Sen. Charles Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that the president deserves credit for protecting the border by trying to prevent the caravan from entering the country. The Iowa Republican wrote that opening the door to undocumented migrants is unfair to foreigners who apply for lawful admittance
How Does This Affect the Election?
Politicians of both major parties are seizing on the issue to encourage their supporters to turn out at the polls for the Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections. Control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate as well, is at stake.
Democrats are poised to hold investigations of the Trump administration, and perhaps initiate impeaching proceedings against the president, if they win the majority of the seats in the House. Political strategists on both sides stress the importance of mobilizing voters on Election Day.
Polls indicate that Americans are deeply divided on immigration, with Republicans backing Trump and Democrats rejecting his policies. The president receives thunderous applause at rallies when he calls for construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border and insists that he will “make Mexico pay for it.” Most Democrats oppose the wall, instead favoring a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
Why Are Immigrants Coming?
Economic chaos and rampant crime in Latin America complicates efforts to find solutions that satisfy everyone. A survey earlier this year found that 42 of the 50 most violent cities in the world are in Central and South America. Some of the worst places to live reportedly are the metropolitan areas of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Two out of three Hondurans are impoverished, according to the World Bank. Most of them live in “extreme poverty,” defined as earning less than $3.80 per day. Children, particularly those in Guatemala and El Salvador, face a daily struggle to find enough food.
The countries’ leaders are unable or unwilling, to make the necessary reforms to provide for their people. Many Latin American governments are mired in corruption, which benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. Their military and police forces are repressive, causing millions to fear for their lives.
The hopelessness has reached the point that no deterrent appears to be capable of stopping people from pursuing their dreams of a better life in the United States. The migrants trudge thousands of miles across deserts and through mountain ranges, fully aware that they could die of starvation, thirst or cold weather. At the least, they risk being jailed or returned home by border-enforcement agents.
Not even Trump’s practice of separating children from their families at the border slowed the tide of foreigners. The administration abandoned the policy amid a storm of controversy but is considering resuming the imprisonment of kids in detention centers apart from their parents. The president believes the threat will cause at least some Latinos to reconsider their plans to cross the border.
However, “immigration enforcement alone will not halt the exodus” of foreigners escaping intolerable conditions in their home countries, Patrick Duddy, who heads the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke University, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill, a conservative news website.
Duddy, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, admitted that a wall might be somewhat useful because it would impede some of those who attempt to enter the United States illegally. However, he argued that such a barrier is not a solution to the underlying issues. He predicted that no wall will stop “desperate” people.
Duddy rejected proposals by liberals to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants languishing in jail. He warned that freeing the prisoners would encourage “millions more” to flock to the United States.
Duddy suggested “a long-term commitment” by Congress and the president to give assistance to foreign governments so they can enact reforms. He suggested that only then will people be able to live in peace and security in their homelands. He advocated financial and technical aid, as well as more funding for groups such as the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.
The op-ed concluded by arguing that meaningful economic and social improvements in Central American countries are the keys to slowing the tide of undocumented immigrants.