By: William Keenan
On October 12th, 2018, a migrant caravan organized in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, began its journey, with the end goal of migrating to the United States. While on their trek, the caravan has grown exponentially, with new members coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Central American countries. According to multiple reports, what started out as a group of 160 now is estimated to be as large as 7,000, making it the largest migrant caravan on record. The migrants claim that they are seeking a better life in the United States and that have experienced human rights violations, poverty, and violence in their home countries. In response President Trump, a staunch advocate for strong border security and hardline immigration policy, has repeatedly threatened to pull aid from Honduras, Guatemala, and other Central and South American countries if they allow the caravan to inch closer to American soil. Federal agencies have received no instructions to take action on this issue yet but the President’s threat has become international news, further widening the rift between the Trump administration and Democratic members of Congress.
The President and his cabinet officials, mainly Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have stated that the caravan is a national security threat. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, and ordinary Americans do not know who the 7,000 migrants are or what they will do once in the country. While the Honduran and Mexican governments have cooperated with the Trump Administration and reporters have interviewed members of the caravan, the migrants’ intentions may change once they reach America. Perhaps the caravan contains innocent people escaping turmoil, but it is also possible the caravan contains a few who may have ill intent. The only way to find out the truth is to allow the migrant caravan in, and this is a risk that the United States cannot take. Once the migrant caravan passes the southern border and is welcomed into the country, it will be increasingly difficult for DHS and USCIS to keep track of them. The two agencies are overworked as it is.
An open Southern border threatens United States sovereignty and way of life and is without a doubt both an emergency and national security threat. An open border would allow illegal immigrants to pour into America, and some could get lost in the system. While not all are dangerous, there is potential for migrants to commit crimes and put average Americans at risk, as seen in the recent Molly Tibbetts, Kate Steinle, and Sarah Root cases. An open southern border threatens everything President Trump campaigned and rallied support for. In response to the quickly moving caravan, President Trump has authorized the deployment of 5,000 troops to the border should the migrants reach it.
The issue over the migrant caravan only adds fuel to the fire that is partisan politics in America. Republicans will point to the caravan and say that this is proof that Congress needs to fully allocate funds for the President’s border wall. President Trump will repeat his claims that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in[to]” the caravan of thousands of Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence to stoke fear and rally his base of supporters. Prominent Democrats and potential 2020 candidates, such as Senators Sanders (I-VT), Harris (D-CA), and Booker (D-NJ) may say that these migrants in the caravan are escaping human rights violations, violence, are seeking a better life and that America is the land of hope for them.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) state that President Trump is attempting to shift focus “from healthcare to immigration because he knows that healthcare is the number one issue Americans care about.” If Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi would look at public opinion data from Pew Research Center, it shows that when asked to respond to if the issue of immigration is very important or somewhat important, 80% of Americans respond yes. The President is not shifting focus away from healthcare but rather is highlighting another issue important to Americans. Furthermore, President Trump is right to do so. The caravan of 7,000 migrants flowing into America is a more pressing issue at the moment than the healthcare debate, which has been mainly focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act since President Trump’s 2016 election.
While other caravans have come to the southern border in previous years, this migrant caravan is unique given how wide the gap is between the President’s stance and those who oppose him and the fact that the caravan itself is the largest on record. Yet, as the caravan inches closer to American soil, no compromise or solution has been found. With previous migrant caravans, those with much smaller numbers, asylum was granted to certain members. With a group of 7,000, however, how will the US government be able to decide who should be granted asylum and who should be sent back? With Congress not in session, President Trump needs to find a solution that not only pleases his base but also considers some concessions.
In order to find a solution for this particular issue and for immigration as a whole, there needs to be conversation and concessions given by both Democrats and Republicans that lead to passage of bipartisan bills focused at expediting the legal immigration process. Democrats cannot ignore immigration and need to hear the President out, and Republicans and the Trump Administration cannot take such a hardline approach on this issue. Congress and the President need to come together and find common ground to solve this issue as Americans rather than remain divided as Democrats and Republicans. Until then, President Trump, if you truly want ‘America First’ and a tough stance on immigration, stop the caravan.