On October 13, thousands of men, women and children left Central America in search of a more prosperous life. A large proportion of this group hail from Honduras, whilst a significant number come from Guatemala and El Salvador, but all left their homelands to escape corruption, poverty and the risk of violence. These people have come to be known as the “migrant caravan,” at their strongest reaching 7,000 in number, but now reduced to around 4,000. After weeks heading north, the caravan has arrived in Mexico and their final destination, the United States, is within reach. With congressional elections taking place on Tuesday, President Trump has seized on the issue with ferocity, building on the success he achieved by using racist stereotypes of immigrants during the presidential election.
He has called the caravan an “invasion of our country,” comprising of “very bad thugs and gang members.” The president has dispatched over 5,000 U.S. Army troops to the border. When talking to reporters last week about the caravan, Trump said: “When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military police, consider it a rifle.” A spokesman for the U.N. International Organization for Migration, Joel Millman, told a U.N. briefing that the caravan is “kind of a normal event.” He also said that “words like ‘invasion’ and things like that is assuming that this is a new phenomenon which is a drastic emergency, and I don’t think that anyone at I.O.M. would share that view.” Furthermore, Millman stated, “Militarizing the border is not something we are in favour of.”
President Trump’s use of the military in the face of weary families that have travelled thousands of miles is a manipulative political move – a shock factor for voters going to the polls on Tuesday. By using the language of ‘invasion,’ he builds on tropes that denigrate immigrants as criminals, ignoring their legitimate concerns and needs as humans. In doing so, the president appears to ignore the warning signs that his flirtations with white nationalist rhetoric have devastating consequences for minorities. They follow the deadliest anti-semitic attack in U.S. history, in which 11 members of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh were killed in a synagogue. The shooter believed in an anti-semitic conspiracy that George Soros, a Jewish billionaire, was funding the migrant caravan. Trump told reporters last week that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if this were the case.
No matter the result of the congressional elections, the migrant caravan will be undeterred, with many of its members unaware of the president’s incendiary comments. It is still around 900 miles away from the U.S. border and, in any case, does not pose a significant threat to the United States. In April this year, a caravan of 1,500 people came from southern Mexico, with many of its members presenting themselves at the U.S. ports of entry to seek asylum legally. From here, migrants have to follow long and complex procedures to ensure that their claims are “credible.” It is no easy task to gain access to the United States. Many migrants attempt to cross the border illegally, risking detainment by authorities or violence from smugglers.
Such risks, the personal and physical costs, which migrants go through to gain access to the U.S. are completely lost in the vociferous discourse over immigration. President Trump has, thankfully, backtracked from the implication that soldiers will be ready to shoot on migrants at the border. However, they are not safe from the consequences of his rhetoric. The historic role of the U.S. to take “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has been replaced by a fear mongering that threatens minorities within the country and those hoping to find a better life from without.
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