Why Is the Caravan Persistent in Crossing U.S. Border?
The caravan of Central Americans is challenging efforts by U.S. officials to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border.
The scene on the California-Mexico line has become violent, with the military using tear gas and pepper spray on rock-throwing caravan members as well as women and children. President Trump defended the troops, claiming their tactics were necessary to stop what he described as an “invasion” by “some very rough people.” He repeated his often-stated vow to prevent anyone from entering the country illegally.
Some migrants reacted to Trump’s temporary closure of a portion of the border, and his decision to suspend asylum applications, by rushing the fence and trying to cross it illegally. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said a thousand or more people attempted to gain entry through vehicle inspection lanes. He told reporters that rocks struck four border officers, who escaped injury by wearing safety equipment. Federal agents arrested 69 people.
Trump told his Twitter followers that Mexico should intercept those who come from Central America and send them home on airplanes or buses. He warned that if “stone cold criminals” continue to come into the United States, he will permanently close the border. The president ended the tweet by repeating his appeal to Congress to finance the wall. The Mexican Interior Ministry, in response to the threats, promised to deport migrants.
Who Does the Caravan Comprise?
Tijuana officials reported that the 5,851 migrants now living in the city’s emergency shelters include 3,754 men, 1,074 women, and 1,023 children. Some of the male foreigners were marching with their families, while others are single men.
The caravan’s gender proportions are important because they relate to two contrasting narratives about the group. Trump warns that some of the migrants are criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners” who intend to prey upon Americans. Advocates for the migrants argue that mostly innocent women and children are involved.
According to Thomas Homan, a former acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, men looking for jobs make up a majority of the caravan. He told Fox News that most of them are adult men, with women and children in the minority. Homan alleged that those “coordinating” the mass migration put women and kids front and center for the television cameras to make Americans more sympathetic to them. He accused the mainstream U.S. news media of abetting the strategy.
Who Might Be Funding the Caravan?
Trump and many of his supporters accuse their political adversaries of financially backing the migrants. The president has repeatedly claimed that Democrats are funding the caravan. He said Democrats favoring “open borders” have “openly invited” foreigners to come to the United States unlawfully. He suggested that Democrats want to see more migrant caravans.
While campaigning for a Montana Republican seeking a U.S. Senate seat in the recent mid-term elections, Trump told a crowd that someone was giving money to migrants to help them enter the United States before Election Day. He said the caravan “didn’t just happen.” (Fact-checkers pointed out that newly arrived undocumented foreigners are not eligible to vote.)
The president cited a video posted by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. The clip depicted two Guatemalan women and their children receiving money from an unidentified person. In a tweet, Gaetz asked whether nongovernmental organizations or George Soros was responsible for the handouts.
Soros, a billionaire Jewish immigrant, is one of the Democratic Party’s biggest funders. Rumors that he provided financial support for the caravan have circulated online, and been repeated by politicians and celebrities. Many news outlets have dismissed the story as a false conspiracy theory.
How Can Migrants Take Advantage of U.S. Rules?
Defenders of caravan members intent upon crossing the border insist that the migrants are primarily asylum seekers; victims of government repression, gang violence, and poverty who are looking for a better life in the United States. The law gives foreigners the opportunity to qualify as “refugees” if they can prove their lives would be endangered if they returned to their homelands.
Thousands of people apply for asylum in the United States every year. Those whose requests are granted not only are allowed to reside in America; they also may get refugee medical assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and other government aid. In addition, they can apply to have their foreign relatives come and live with them. After four years, they can become U.S. citizens with voting rights and other privileges afforded to native-born Americans.
Two legal documents, the United States 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, stipulate that refugee status may be obtained by anyone who has a proven reason to fear persecution or torture in their native countries “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 contains the same language.
In fiscal year 2017, authorities determined that 60,566 asylum applicants had shown sufficient evidence of having a “credible fear” of going back to their countries. However, the research center TRAC at Syracuse University found that about 60 percent of asylum seekers in 2017 lost their cases, an increase of 45 percent from 2012.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump recently fired, tried to rein in the number of people getting asylum. He proclaimed that no one deserves asylum just because their country is unable to prevent crime, or because certain segments of the population are particularly vulnerable to violence.
Why Aren’t They Listening Despite Warnings?
Migrants who were escaping dangerous situations felt they had little choice but to face the hardships of a long, grueling march through Mexico. After all they have been through, they are reluctant to accept being turned away at the U.S. border.
Caravan members point out that the law gives them the right to apply for asylum. Some of them have declared that they will wait at the border for as long as necessary to have immigration judges consider their cases. That means dealing with inclement weather, poor sanitation, and other issues.
Many are even willing to spend an indefinite amount of time in a detention center while awaiting hearings and to risk having their children placed in separate prisons. While Trump bowed to pressure to end his administration’s family-separation policy for immigrants, he has threatened to reinstate it.
Where Is This Heading?
The outcome of the crisis is unknown. The fate of thousands of migrants, as well as the future of U.S. immigration policy, hang in the balance.
The president dramatically raised the stakes when he sent 5,000 active-duty troops to the border in October. It was an unusual move since the military is generally not involved in immigration matters. Trump might end the deployment, or increase the number of soldiers to help enforce his tough stand on illegal immigration.
Temporarily closing the border also departed from past practice. If the president makes good on his suggested shutdown of the entire border, it would be the first time that ever happened. Some critics call such an action illegal, while others predict that the administration will not be able to impose a full closure.
Trump has said he might rewrite the rules for seeking asylum by offering the process only to migrants who come through an official port of entry. That would upend decades of accepted procedure. So would changing the regulations for proving credible fear.
Michael J. Bars, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told The Washington Post that the government has set an “extremely low bar” for credible fear. He said people fleeing poverty may pretend to be asylum seekers afraid of violence.
The implications for foreign policy are significant. Trump has called for ending military and humanitarian assistance for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador because the countries’ leaders are not “stopping people from leaving.” The current confrontation may become resolved as a result of migrants “self-deporting.” Though thousands of caravan members are in shelters, others are struggling to survive on the streets. They fear for their children’s safety.
Fox News described the migrants as “tired, restless and frustrated.” They are finding that reaching and crossing the U.S. border is harder than they thought it would be. The arduous trek, sometimes from as far away as Guatemala or El Salvador, is physically and psychologically challenging. Health-service providers report that a majority of the migrants have respiratory ailments.
In Tijuana, Mexico, City Delegate Genaro Lopez Moreno asked for help in covering expenses the migrants incur. He said daily costs amount to between $30,000 to $40,000, which the city cannot continue to provide for much longer.