Caravan Issue Heats Up

Proximity could make it a potent issue in the midterm elections

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 19, 2018

In October 17, 2018, post, I reported on the then-most-recent news concerning a group of foreign nationals, primarily from Honduras, who had left in a caravan from the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, headed north, with some intending to come to the United States. That post involved tweets from the president that threatened foreign aid, and action by the governments of Honduras and Guatemala. The issue of the caravan has only become more heated in the last few days.

On October 19, 2018, the Associated Press reported that the caravan, which now consists of 3,000 people, has passed through Guatemala and is now at the border town of Tecun Uman, between Guatemala and Mexico. According to the AP, the vanguard of that caravan approached the border on October 18, but was stopped by Guatemalan police, and "dispersed to the local migrant shelter and parks where volunteers offered them food."

NPR stated that the organizers of the caravan have indicated that they are awaiting the arrival of thousands of additional marchers before attempting a crossing of the Mexican border. It continued:

"You can tell Mexican security forces are preparing because there are dozens of police in riot gear waiting here for the imminent arrival of this caravan," [NPR reporter James] Frederick told NPR, while standing on a bridge that links Mexico and Guatemala.

The Mexican government is taking additional steps, as well. AP has been told that the government of Mexico has been "in constant communication with members of the caravan explaining the migrants' options. It said officials were already assisting some migrants who had crossed and requested refugee status." That outlet reports that the Mexican government will require Hondurans in the caravan to show a passport and visa (which most likely lack), or apply individually for refugee status in that country, "a process that can mean waiting for up to 90 days for approval," and that those migrants who do not have the appropriate documentation "will be deported" by Mexico.

Not surprisingly, a leader of a similar caravan earlier this year (which was reported on by my colleague Kausha Luna in March), has become involved in this story. According to AP:

Tensions rose Thursday when an immigration activist who led a migrant caravan through Mexico last spring was arrested by federal police and immigration agents in Ciudad Hidalgo on the Mexican side of the border.

Irineo Mujica's organization, Pueblo sin Fronteras or People without Borders, said he was detained during a peaceful march. Video circulating on social media saw several police and immigration agents pushing Mujica into an immigration agency van in a crowd of people. Mujica appeared to be resisting.

[Edgar Corzo of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission] said police accused Mujica of slashing the tires of an immigration vehicle. Immigration officials said later in a statement that Mujica, who has dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, is accused of property damage. It said Mujica attacked immigration agents, as well as local and federal police, after he was asked for his identification.

Similarly, and not surprisingly, the caravan has become a political issue in the midterm elections. According to Oregon station KTVZ, the president told a rally in Missoula, Mont., on October 18 that: "It's going to be an election of the caravan." It reported:

This week, Trump, who has made combating illegal immigration a cornerstone of his political career, has pointed to the caravan making its way from Honduras as part of his efforts to galvanize Republicans ahead of the midterms.

In this, the president's political instincts are likely correct. As proof of my theory, I would point to the Wall Street Journal, which reported on October 18 that: "Democrats say the focus on immigration is backfiring by motivating progressives and independent voters." When your political opponents say that your election policies are bad, that is generally a sign that you are on the right track.

Further, as I detailed in a September 2018 post, immigration enforcement is a key issue for uncommitted voters in the midterm elections. Quoting a column by Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal, I noted that a key takeaway was:

Republicans have an opportunity in highlighting the left's more doolally ideas. Uncommitted voters reacted strongly against Democrats' calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], and strongly in favor of GOP promises to defund "sanctuary" cities and states, which refuse to follow immigration law. These were top messages for those crucial suburban voters, who have watched in alarm as urban violence creeps into their neighborhoods.

The same is true of large groups of foreign nationals marching through various asylum-granting countries demanding entry into the United States. The American people are, from an immigration standpoint, probably the most big-hearted and sympathetic nationality on the face of the earth. At the same time, however, they expect law and order to govern that process. It is one thing for us to invite you in; it is something very different for you to expect entry.

We take care of our own, and then some. For example, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

We receive and adjudicate an average of 7 million petitions and applications annually. These petitions and applications typically allow foreign nationals to stay in United States as lawful permanent residents (LPR) or immigrants, to stay temporarily to work as nonimmigrants, or to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Or, consider the $50 billion in foreign aid the we provide annually to 214 countries and geographical regions all around the world (including the countries from which the migrants in the caravan come). Or, the fact that, as Stars and Stripes explains:

U.S. aircraft carriers loaded with equipment, supplies and thousands of troops have shown up early to some of the world's worst disasters over the past decade, including tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia and a deadly earthquake in Haiti.

The massive ships are a potent symbol of U.S. power — and charity. Disaster relief has become a key mission for the United States and a way to exercise the softer side of its military influence overseas.

The American people expect their government to give to those in need. But, they also expect it to be on their own terms.

The president is correct that immigration is a significant issue with American voters. And the closer the caravan gets to the southern border of the United States, the more likely it is to influence the midterm elections.