The Current State of the Migrant Caravan


Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

A family, including a mother and two little girls in diapers, run from the tear gas released by the U.S. Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Edan Larkin, Editor-in-Chief

In early October, a group of migrants departed from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, beginning an approximately 2,700 mile journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. As this group took off, additional migrants from other countries joined along the way. The choice to travel in a pack was made based off of the strength that is found in numbers; in many areas of Central America, human trafficking and drug gangs are prominent issues, so moving together provided additional safety. Now, much of this caravan, comprised of thousands of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, has reached the U.S.-Mexico border, in what President Trump called “an invasion.”

A map depicting the travels of the migrant caravan.

Earlier in the caravan’s journey the Mexican government estimated the number of migrants in the caravan to be around 3,600 migrants, while the United Nations refugee agency reported that 7,000 were in the group. On October 31, however, Trump told ABC News that there were “caravans coming up that look a lot larger than it’s reported actually” based on the claim that he is “pretty good at estimating crowd size, and I’ll tell you they look a lot bigger than people would think.”

These words struck many as odd. “That’s so unprofessional of him… is he even allowed to say that?” questioned senior Abby Bienfang.

As of Sunday, the BBC reported that 7,000 migrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border, a number that is expected to increase to 10,000.

Such an arduous journey, especially by foot, is clearly a hefty task to undertake. So why are men, women, and children abandoning their homes for such a trek? According to the migrants, they are fleeing their home countries with the hope of establishing better, safer lives for themselves and their families in the United States. Some have reported that they will be subjected to the will of criminal gangs if they stay in their hometowns. Others are in search of job opportunities through which they can obtain enough money to send home to their relatives who still live in Central America. Still others have relatives they hope to reach or the dream of a life in the U.S.

Despite the sacrifices these migrants have made for their goal of a better future, President Trump and many other Americans have asserted since October that the migrants will not be welcomed into the country. In October, Trump denounced the caravan as “criminals.” He also claimed that they included “Middle Easterners.” Vice President Pence supported this claim during a speech he gave in October, in which he said, “It’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people.”

The Department of Homeland Security spread statistics detailing annual arrest numbers of the fiscal year 2018, in which 17,256 criminals were apprehended along the border, in order to suggest the likelihood of some criminals being in the caravan. This data reported that 3,028 of those apprehended were “aliens from countries of special interest to the United States such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.” Pence looked to this data when claiming that migrants of Middle Eastern descent were among the caravan, but, throughout 2018, only 0.8% of those arrested at the border classified as these “special interest aliens.”

Leading up to midterm elections on November 6, Trump published dozens of tweets that used the news of the caravan to push the Republican agenda. On November 2, he told a crowd of his supporters in Missouri that “if you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican.”

Around the same time, Trump tweeted claims that “many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan heading to our southern border.” He even warned the migrants that “our military is waiting for you.” In fact, he deployed 5,800 military troops to the southern border of the U.S. and added additional wire to some areas of the fence, which he tweeted a photo of on November 19.

More recently, Trump once again alleged that the caravan includes “stone cold criminals.” Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, stated that 500 of the thousands of migrants in the caravan are criminals. However, the Trump administration has not disclosed how they obtained this information and what the nature of the alleged crimes is. The Mexican government has already arrested more than 100 members of the caravan. 

On the other hand, some Americans have expressed steadfast support for the migrant caravan since October. Politically, the issue of the caravan has been incredibly divisive. In October, Trump insinuated that Democrats were responsible for the caravan. Although this claim is unfounded, Democrats have shown support for the caravan. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, responded, “These people have faced the worst of the worst – gang violence, economic desperation, natural disasters, extreme poverty and in some cases, state-sanctioned violence and intimidation… Instead of admitting some responsibility in creating the violent situation in Honduras, President Trump is yet again scapegoating immigrants and refugees. He is painting a picture of this migrant caravan as a threat to our national security instead of the desperate group of refugees that they are.”

Now that many migrants have reached Mexico and its northern border, tensions have only risen.

On November 25, a group of about 500 migrants in Mexico rushed the border near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, overwhelming the police stationed there. This lead to the U.S. closing a prominent border crossing located in San Diego.

The Mexican government played a role in the apprehension of the migrants. The Interior Ministry of Mexico said on Sunday that federal and local authorities worked to prevent migrants from illegally crossing the border. As of that night, 39 people were arrested by the police of Tijuana, according to CNN. Mexico will deport those who attempted to cross the border illegally to their home countries.

El Universal, a prominent newspaper in Mexico, released a poll on Sunday that found that 70% of Mexicans are against the arrival of the migrant caravan in their country. 52% support blocking the migrants from entry, and 55% want future caravans to be handled more sternly.

However, also on Sunday, Mexicans and Americans alike expressed their support for the migrants as well. The San Diego Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Coalition, which includes almost 20 separate activist groups, hosted a march in support of the caravan in San Diego. Marches also occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. Just across the border, migrants marched together in Tijuana.

AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
A Central American migrant woman rushes the border, carrying a handmade United States flag.

As the caravan rushed the border in Tijuana, U.S. Border Patrol then proceeded to tear gas the migrants. On Twitter, Border Patrol explained, “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety.” Videos from Sunday depict adults and children running and screaming from the onslaught of the gas.

“I think that’s so bad,” expressed junior Sarah Curry. “To [use] tear gas on children who are literally doing nothing… how do they expect children to get past armed guards? There’s no need for the tear gas.”

Curry continued, saying she did not necessarily side with the government or the migrants, but that “there has to be a better way than this.”

Some people applauded the actions of the government. After actress Alyssa Milano ridiculed Trump on 

Twitter for the tear gas incident, Tomi Lahren, a well-known Republican Fox contributor, responded with the following on November 26: “Bum-rushing the border is a CHOICE and has consequences. Watching the USA FINALLY defend our borders was the HIGHLIGHT of my Thanksgiving weekend.”

Other people, however, felt quite differently. Geraldo Rivera, a Republican who regularly appears on the Fox News program The Five, was featured in an episode of The Five on Sunday, in which he expressed his disdain for the treatment of the migrants and the way Fox News has covered the situation.

Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, first accused Fox News of using him for his Latin American heritage. “Fulfilling my role as the designated piñata on Fox News, I am ashamed,” he began. “ This tear gas choked me. We treat these people, these economic refugees as if they’re zombies from The Walking Dead. I think—we arrested 42 people, eight of them were women. With children. We have to deal with this problem humanely and with compassion. These are not “invaders!” Stop using these military analogies. This is absolutely painful to watch. This is—we are a nation of immigrants. These are desperate people, they walked 2000 miles—why? Because they want to rape your daughter or steal your lunch? No! Because they want a job. They want to fill the millions of unfilled jobs we have in the agricultural sector. They want to wash dishes in restaurants, they want to deliver the pizzas. For goodness´ sake, we suspend our humanity when it comes to this issue and I fear that it is because they look different than we do.”

Democrats also condemned the events that occured on the border on Sunday. On November 25, Beto O’Rourke, a U.S. Representative from Texas, tweeted, “It should tell us something about her home country that a mother is willing to travel 2,000 miles with her 4-month old son to come here. How we respond when she arrives tells us something about ours.”

Whether one agrees with the migrants or with the governments of the United States and Mexico regarding the migrant caravan, the general consensus both at HHS and in most other areas of the world is that tear gassing entire families with young children is taking the issue to a new level. What the future holds for these migrants is still to be determined.