Politics of Poverty

Presidential Twitter tirade on Mexico’s migrant caravan: The truth behind the noise

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A mural map of Mexico by Mizar Martín, showing migrant routes, train tracks, shelters and dangerous places in Tenosique, Tabasco, México. (Photo: Tamara Skubovius)

A factual response to President Trump’s Twitter storm directed at the Central American Migrant Caravan in Mexico.

On Sunday, President Trump launched his latest Twitter tirade, this time targeting a migrant caravan in Mexico.  It is hard to say what triggered the Tweetstorm but some say that it was an inflammatory Fox new story warning of an impending “invasion” of Central American migrants headed to the US Border.  In a barrage of tweets, he threatened to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to punish Mexico for not detaining immigrants, blamed Democrats for weak immigration laws, and boldly exclaimed that DACA, the program to help students and professionals brought to the US as children, was dead.   And today, news outlets are reporting that he will sign an order to send National Guard troops to “defend” the border.

There is indeed a caravan of some 1200-1500 migrants, mostly from Honduras, that started at the Mexican-Guatemalan border and is headed through Mexico.  This is an annual event that began in 2010 to publicize the plight of Central Americans forced to flee from violence and poverty.  In fact, this year’s procession is called the “Stations of the Cross Refugee Caravan” to emphasize the humanitarian crises Central Americans are facing.  When the caravan arrives at the US southern border, some will request political asylum, some will stay in Mexico and others will simply fade into the shadows.

President Trump tweeted that those in the caravan only want to take advantage of DACA and he threatened to cut off all aid to the Honduran government. While some might argue that cutting aid to the Honduran government should happen given last fall’s irregular elections and the country’s on-going human rights violations, we know that President Trump is not making this threat on those bases.  Still, it is important to get beyond the presidential bluster to the truth. Here are the facts:

  1. Those in the Mexican caravan will not be eligible to apply for DACA. In order to be eligible for the programs a person has to have lived in the United States prior to June 15, 2007 and has to have been brought here as a child. This would obviously not apply to new arrivals or those who apply for political asylum. In addition, DACA is not dead because recipients can still renew their status with the Department of Homeland Security.
  2. Immigrants are not the source of high rates of violent crime in the US. Appealing to his base, President Trump demonized immigrants in this country, and blamed them for high violent crime rates. The truth, however, is that studies show that having large immigrant populations actually reduce crime in communities rather than increase crime. The Marshall Project just released an analysis that states the link between immigration and high crime rates “exists in imaginations of the American people, and nowhere else.”
  3. Migrants crossing the US- Mexican border are at an historic low. Not only that, the Mexican government is deporting migrants at record numbers. In January and February 2018 alone, Mexico deported 16,278 people, 97 percent of whom were from Central America.  The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has documented that migrants apprehended at the border is at the lowest level since 1970.   On average, border patrol agents at the US’s southern border apprehend 18 migrants per year. One migrant every three weeks hardly justifies sending the National Guard.
  4. Migrants are not “invading” the US, they are fleeing violence, poverty and instability. The men, women and children who are coming to the US from Mexico and Central America are coming from some of the most violent and politically unstable places in the world. In Honduras, for example, irregular elections last fall reinstated President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and violence and civil unrest has followed.  Migrants are seeking political asylum, which the US is obligated to provide under Title 8 Section 1225 of the US Federal Code and under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
  5. The US is working in a variety of ways to stem migration by addressing root causes. Just two weeks ago Congress and President Trump approved an omnibus spending bill that includes $615 million for programs in Central American countries that address the root causes of out-migration and reform justice and security institutions. Since 2015, Congress has recognized that violence, insecurity, impunity, and pervasive poverty are factors that are forcing people to abandon their families and their countries to seek protection in other countries. These are the types of investments – not a further militarized border – that will lead to more sustainable solutions for the US, migrants, and their home countries.

The Stations of the Cross Refugee Caravan deserves our praise, not condemnation, for bringing attention to the violent and impoverished conditions Central Americans suffer daily. DACA recipients deserve a permanent solution to their uncertain immigration through providing them permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship.  The US Congress also deserves praise for continuing to support programs in Central America to address the reasons people are fleeing with our tax dollars and can do more.  And we deserve to hear the truth from the President rather than demagogic and divisive tweets.

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