On Oct. 12, 160 people gathered in Honduras’ capital city, San Pedro Sula, to embark by foot on a grueling journey north, in search of opportunity and security. As this group of Central American migrants traveled through Guatemala and on toward the Mexican border, their numbers swelled into the thousands. The imagery was, and is, powerful: thousands of asylum seekers — a caravan — slowly making a trek that countless others have attempted before. At the time of this writing, this caravan is approximately 1,000 miles from the US-Mexico border. It continues to ebb and flow in size as some migrants seek asylum in Mexico, while others abandon the journey altogether.
This is not a new phenomenon: northward migrations occur regularly as citizens of the Northern Triangle flee insecurity, lack of economic opportunity and government corruption. International media outlets, however, have noticed this migrant caravan. To the detriment of not only these asylum seekers, but those who have already made the treacherous journey, not to mention future asylum seekers and current US permanent residents, the Trump administration has also taken notice. The timing was propitious as the midterm elections approached: the Trump administration was willing to do anything to rally its base, to appeal to their darkest instincts and to scare its supporters to the polls.
The many abhorrent myths about this caravan being perpetrated by this administration and its proxies include:
- This is a band of gang members and criminals seeking to invade the US and attack its citizens;
- This is a group of unwanted individuals infected with deadly diseases who’ll contaminate American citizens;
- There are young, strong Middle Easterners embedded within the group;
- The caravan is a conspiracy orchestrated by George Soros and the Democratic Party to make the Trump Administration look weak on border security.
Such wildly inaccurate, racially tinged untruths previously resided only at the far fringes of the right-wing media. Now they sit front and center, embraced by the President, reported on by the mainstream press, and believed by many. Words matter, and when one’s words have the power to mobilize the world’s largest military, to shock the global markets, and to affect the lives of people in the US and every corner of the world with a single tweet, their implications can be dire.
On Oct. 29, the Pentagon announced Operation Faithful Patriot. It calls for the placement of 5,200 active-duty troops on the US-Mexico border, pushing the total military presence there to more than 7,000. As Politico noted, this figure will be “roughly the same number fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
The President has also announced, inaccurately, that our servicemen and women will serve as shields. He says they will man the border to prevent the asylum seekers from turning themselves over to the authorities in the hopes of making successful asylum claims. This comes amid Trump’s threats to close the US-Mexico border and to abolish, by executive order, the Fourteenth Amendment in order to do away with birthright citizenship. This plethora of anti-immigrant rhetoric would seem strategically aligned.
A recent Gallup poll found immigration among the top issues for registered Republican midterm voters. Yet the asylum seekers traveling north do not pose a national security threat or any existential threat to America. The US justice system can argue the merits of any claims for asylum, and we can have productive discussions on how to fix our broken immigration system — so let’s not allow ourselves to be distracted. Phantom national security crises are clearly being manufactured by this administration to stoke anti-immigration sentiment and fears. Let us choose our words more carefully.