Caravan Updates: The Surge Continues, the President Reacts

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 26, 2018

I have been following the migrant caravan since shortly after it formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on October 13, 2018. On October 25, 2018, USA Today reported that the caravan was in Mapastepec, which the paper described as "a Pacific coastal town of less than 50,000 people in the state of Chiapas." The next stop for the caravan is reportedly Pijijiapan, a town 25 miles northwest of Mapastepec.

Interestingly, it is unclear how many people are still in the caravan, or if their numbers have increased or decreased. USA Today cites Mexican officials who state that the number of migrants in the caravan had fallen to 3,630, "noting those who dropped out either applied for asylum in Mexico or chose to return home." This was down from the 7,200 migrants that the United Nations had indicated were in the caravan on October 22. Specifically, on October 25, the Mexican government reported that 1,743 of the migrants the caravan had applied for asylum or refugee status in that country, while 196 others were being assisted in returning home.

The paper continues, however:

Alex Mensing, a U.S.-based organizer with the group Pubelo Sin Fronteras, which is providing humanitarian assistance to the migrants, said the size of the caravan has swelled to 10,000 people.

Crowd estimates are always difficult even when those crowds are stationary (as Popular Mechanics has pointed out, noting however that such estimates are not impossible), but the process becomes much more difficult when it is in motion. That said, this caravan seems to be stopping in set locations, so I am guessing that the Mexican government estimate is probably the more reliable, as it is responsible in the eyes the world for those migrants' safety.

In any event, at this rate, Mensing stated, it will take a month for the caravan to get to the closest city on the U.S. border.

Despite this time frame, the president is already preparing plans for dealing with those migrants. Fox News reports that the president is mulling over an executive order to "block migrants, including asylum seekers, from entering the U.S. at the southern border." As my colleague Mark Krikorian noted in National Review:

The president's threat to shut down the border is a more realistic way to pressure Mexico to stop the caravan. President Nixon did essentially that in 1969 to pressure Mexico on drugs. President Reagan did the same in 1985 in the wake of Mexican recalcitrance in investigating the kidnapping of DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Or, if some large share of the caravan descends upon a single port of entry, we just close that one. This would cause more pain on our side than in decades past, because our economy is more integrated with Mexico's than it was in the 1960[s] or even the 1980s, but the pain would still be significantly greater for Mexico.

Section 215(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) gives the president great latitude in this area. It states:

Unless otherwise ordered by the President, it shall be unlawful-

(1) for any alien to depart from or enter or attempt to depart from or enter the United States except under such reasonable rules, regulations, and orders, and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may prescribe.

That is not to say, however, that some pliable district court judge would not enjoin such action, but it might be a short-term solution.

In addition, NPR has reported that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is expected to order the deployment of 800 troops to the border at the request of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Krikorian noted the shortcoming of such a deployment, which is largely symbolic:

Deploying troops won't do any good because they can't arrest people; it would be just like the National Guard deployments under the Bush, Obama, and current administrations, where troops assisted the Border Patrol in reconnaissance and the like, which is fine as far as it goes but doesn't solve anything. And they're obviously not going to open fire on unarmed people. Even land mines and machines guns atop concrete border walls wouldn't matter much, since most of those arriving would simply go to a legal port of entry. (About one-third of last spring's caravan actually made it all the way to the border, and of those, the large majority went to ports of entry.)

I agree with him that, at the end of the day, only Congress can close the loopholes that have encouraged thousands of migrants (including many women and children, as the Independent (UK) has noted) to begin a long trek to the United States.

In fact, it is families and children who benefit the most from those loopholes, as the White House has suggested. As a result, it notes:

We have seen a record-shattering surge in the arrival of family units, with more than 161,000 family unit apprehensions and inadmissibles in fiscal year (FY) 2018.

This historic surge was 42 percent higher than any previous year on record.

In the last three months, family unit apprehensions made up the highest percentage of total apprehensions in history.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors continue to stream across our borders.

Unaccompanied minor apprehensions and inadmissibles totaled 58,660 in FY 2018, an increase of nearly 10,000, or approximately 20 percent, compared to FY 2017.

Those populations are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of the journey from the "Northern Triangle" countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, as I have explained in a recent post captioned "An Incredibly Violent Journey to the United States", and in a July 2018 post captioned "CBP Rescues Aliens from Smugglers, And other pictures you don't usually see". Despite this, Congress, and in particular congressional Democrats, have largely sat on their hands as this human tragedy unfolds.

This is a complex issue that tugs, in individual cases, at the heartstrings of the public. The Center has done its best to explain these issues, and their consequences, in understandable terms. Despite this fact, the finer points of these matters are largely ignored by the media and by Congress. In a few weeks, we will find out whether they have been ignored by the American people as well.