By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO
A growing group of desperate migrants fleeing Honduras is making its way through Mexico toward the United States, with mostly women and children enduring cold and rain in search of a better life.
Their sad stories of starvation, abuse, and death threats from street gangs have drawn attention to the worsening social unrest in Central America and also Mexico, where thousands more have joined the caravan of people in cars, on buses, and even on foot.
The caravan started with 140 Hondurans and has now swelled to an estimated 4,000 people.
After clashes with authorities at the Guatemalan border then at Mexico’s southern border, the caravan has continued moving north through Mexico with the support of local churches and human rights groups.
Their stated goal is to seek asylum in the United States, but many will first apply for refuge in Mexico. Under increasing pressure from the Trump Administration, Mexico has worked to discourage and eventually deport asylum seekers. In recent years, Mexico has sharply reduced the number of asylum cases it accepts and, instead, has deported some 950,000 Central Americans.
This is the second large caravan of migrants this year that has worked its way toward the U.S. border in hopes of seeking asylum. In April, a similar caravan of about 1,500 Central Americans reached the border here in San Diego where hundreds eventually sought asylum.
Although that caravan ended up at the Tijuana-San Diego border, the current caravan is expected to arrive at one of several Texas border crossings which are a lot closer than the San Diego border.
Even when the caravan reaches the U.S., very few asylum cases will be accepted, as was the case back in April. Most of the refugees will have already either applied for asylum in Mexico, or will have dispersed and returned back home before even attempting to cross into the U.S.
The caravan is still thousands of miles from the U.S. but that hasn’t stopped Trump and his friends from declaring a new threat to the U.S. Without citing any evidence, and in complete contradiction of his own Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Trump this week claimed that ISIS and other terrorist groups have embedded themselves within the caravan, adding that “Middle Easterners” were mixed in among the refugees.
No evidence exists to support that claim, and, when pressed for proof of his claims by a reporter, Trump finally admitted “there is no proof of anything”.
This week, Trump asked the U.S. military to send an additional 800 troops to the border to support the National Guard troops already deployed there. Although the troops do not directly engage in border apprehensions, the optics of sending more troops is a popular idea among Trump supports leading up to the mid-term elections in just two weeks.
The tactic is now becoming all too familiar; when Trump needs a foil, a nemesis, a bogyman, and one is not readily available, he just makes on up. No proof. No evidence. No need for details.
Donald Trump is, without a doubt, a showman. He exaggerates just for the show. He makes things up because they fit his narrative. And sometimes, he lies when the truth will suffice.
The issue of migrants being displaced from their homeland is not a new crisis. In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced because of wars, famine, crime, and persecution. The United Nations estimates that over 65 million people around the world were in some state of displacement in 2017, including 21 million from Africa, 31 million from Asia, 8 million from Latin America, and 6 million from Europe.
In recent years, we saw refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and flooding into Europe, causing a humanitarian crisis that led to harsh treatment of immigrants. Of the millions that were displaced, the U.S. only agreed to take in less than 110,000.
The refugee caravan heading toward the U.S. now is just a symptom of the many humanitarian issues people in Latin America face. The vast majority of them have no way to flee their homelands. Many will endure the hardships or die trying.
But, for a few, making the dangerous trip North may be their only way to survive. Imagine how dire their situation is that they would rather take their chances on the long trip toward the U.S. than to remain home and risk dying anyway.
No matter what we may think about our immigration laws, the U.S. and other countries maintain international agreements that offer asylum protection. For millions, seeking refuge in another country has been the only way to survive.
These life-and-death issues should not be trivialized for the sake of politics. Fabricating claims of terrorism, exaggerating the threat posed by refugees, or rejecting asylum seekers outright will put thousands of lives at risk, and diminish America’s standing as the beacon of hope it has been for over 200 years.
In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote a poem to raise money for the pedestal that later became the base of the Statue of Liberty. Her most famous lines were memorialized on a plaque on the statue’s base and have been the words that have inspired immigrants from around the world.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We cannot now close our borders, our minds, and our hearts when refugees seek the very protections our country has long promised. At minimum, we should honor the international system of asylum that is offered to protect the most vulnerable among us, and we must keep politics out of the discussion.
Saving lives is not Democratic or Republican, its humane.