New Central American Migrant Caravan to Test Trump Administration

Timing is Interesting Weeks Before the Midterm Elections

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 15, 2018

In a March 30, 2018, post, my colleague Kausha Luna reported that a caravan of Central Americans was headed to the United States, hoping to make asylum claims. It appears that history is repeating itself, at a critical time in our nation's political life.

On October 13, 2018, Reuters reported:

More than 1,000 people, including families and women carrying babies, set off from Honduras toward the United States on Saturday, days after the United States urged Honduras' president to halt mass migration.

Specifically, that article stated that 1,300 persons were involved in a so-called "March of the Migrant", with a plan to travel from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, through Guatemala and on to Mexico, according to Bartolo Fuentes, the purported organizer of that march. Reuters explained that some of those migrants intended to request refugee status in Mexico, or a "visa" that would enable them to continue to the U.S. border.

San Pedro Sula has been known in the past as one of the most dangerous places on earth. Interestingly, however, The Week (UK), in a March 2018 article on "The 10 deadliest cities in the world", stated:

The biggest success story is undoubtedly the central American nation of Honduras, whose sky-high murder rates last year saw both its second-largest city San Pedro Sula and capital Tegucigalpa make the top five, sitting at 3rd (112.09 [per 100,000]) and 4th (82.09) respectively.

This year, however, following what the Mexico's Citizens' Council for Public Security describes as "a commendable effort by the Honduran government to systematically eradicate criminal groups", San Pedro Sula dropped 23 places to 26th (51.18) and Tegucigalpa fell all the way to 35th (48.00), meaning both cities have halved their murder rates in the past 12 months.

By way of comparison, my hometown of Baltimore ranked number 21 and St. Louis was 13 on that list, which was published by Mexico's Citizens' Council for Public Security. Interestingly, five of the top-10 cities on that list were in Mexico, including Tijuana (number five), the destination of many of the marchers in the caravan earlier this year, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

In an August 2016 opinion piece, Sonia Nazario argued in the New York Times that: "Programs funded by the United States are helping transform Honduras." She stated:

Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs' violence.

This summer I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.

Such aid was a topic of the meeting referenced by Reuters above. According to the Associated Press, Vice President Mike Pence told President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala, and Vice President Oscar Ortiz of El Salvador in a meeting on October 11, 2018, in Washington that the United States was willing to do more to help the economies of those three countries "if they make a greater effort to fight illegal immigration." As the AP explained:

The U.S. has committed more than $2.6 billion in foreign assistance over fiscal years 2015 to 2018 in Central America. The local governments have budgets totaling $8.6 billion from 2016 to 2018.

Given the magnitude as such aid, it would seem reasonable to expect some assistance on the migration issues facing the United States from those three countries.

Sigmund Freud once reportedly said that there was "no such thing" as an accident. The political corollary to this rule, at least from my experience, is that there's no such thing as a coincidence. A large number of men, women, and children marching from Central America three weeks before a crucial midterm election would seem to fit that bill.

The last caravan, coupled with an uptick in illegal entries along the Southwest border, undoubtedly led to many of the actions that the Trump administration took in early April 2018 to tighten the border, as I explained before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security Subcommittee in testimony that month:

After months in which a smaller number of aliens than usual attempted illegal entry into the United States following the election and inauguration of President Trump, in March 2018, more than 37,000 aliens were apprehended after attempted illegal entry, and more than 50,000 were apprehended along the border or were deemed inadmissible [at] the ports of entry. This upward trend is illustrated by the 1,000 to 1,500 foreign nationals in the Pueblo Sin Fronteras caravan, some if not all of whom have the intention of making their way to the United States.

The Trump administration has taken steps to address the surge of aliens coming in recent weeks illegally across our Southwest border. Specifically, the president is phasing out "catch and release", National Guard troops will be mobilized to the border, and the attorney general has announced a "zero-tolerance" policy for illegal entry prosecutions.

Perhaps it is the intent of the organizers of this latest march to provoke the administration to take steps that the president's opponents could then describe as "inhumane". Or perhaps it is no more than an attempt to focus on instability in Central America, or to enter the United States illegally. In any event, it will provide a critical test for the Trump administration just days before one of the most critical midterm elections in recent years.