Some Musings on that Caravan

By David North on November 5, 2018

Getting beyond the beats of the tom-tom regarding the caravan coming north from Central America (such as the president's statements), it might be helpful to review some aspects of this phenomenon. I am deeply worried about it, but not actively alarmed, not yet.

Walking. As so often is the case in the immigration dialogue, the words used have a bearing on the situation.

To me a caravan is a formidable group of people moving together, usually with either vehicles, or at least horses or camels. (The smaller words, "car" and "van" both appear within the larger word, and that may be misleading.)

But so far (as of November 5) the four or five thousand in the first caravan are moving, largely, on foot. One can watch their small day-to-day movements on the CIS interactive map created by my Center colleagues.

The group is now some 900-plus miles from our southern border; if they continue to progress at, say, 15 miles a day, it would take them two full months to reach our border; if they speed up to, say, 20 miles a day, it would take 45 days.

If most of them begin to travel in vehicles of any kind, this will change the nature of the challenge, but that has not happened yet.

Attrition. Think about what happens when a large number of people head off on a long, long walk; let's assume that no reinforcements of other walkers are added, and, on the other hand, the walk is through friendly territory, and no one is stopped or killed by hostile forces.

Some of the marchers will have to drop out because of illness, others will become discouraged and return home, some, in this instance, will decide to stay in Mexico. Only the strongest and most desperate will persevere.

The dramatic graphic of Edward Tufte regarding Napoleon's march to Moscow, and particularly his retreat therefrom, comes to mind, as an extreme example of attrition among walkers, but in that case the weather was terrible and the neighbors were unfriendly.

Other caravans seem to have gotten underway, but they will run into the same problems.

Criminal and Spies. Surely there are criminals among the walkers, as there are in any large group of people. (One of my college classmates, a generally honorable bunch, wound up in the pen for being president of a short-line railroad that fenced stolen railway equipment.) But a criminal with even below-average skill levels will figure there is a better way to beat our immigration system than by walking 1,000 miles. (The creation of the caravan, incidentally, was designed to fend off criminals along the way.)

As for spies, a spy-master would fire one of them if she suggested such a wasteful (in terms of staff time) way of entering the United States.

Conspiracy Theories. When something out of the ordinary happens, people often fall for comforting conspiracy theories; some evil force must be behind the assassination, or the fall in oil prices, or the mass movement of Central Americans. There must be something over and above the standard explanation for the event.

I suppose it is possible that the leaders of Iran, out of sheer spite, could spark such a movement, but would they do so, when the only beneficiary (albeit indirectly) is President Trump? And if there were to be such an effort, maybe by North Korea, wouldn't it be handled differently? Would not the evil-doers plunk down $1 million to buy a fleet of used school buses and bring those marchers up to the border in a matter of days? Such a purchase would just about demolish the attrition threat.

What Remains. This leaves us with a worrisome and all-too-real situation: There is tremendous poverty, crime, and corruption in some places on our continent and we have a segment of the immigration system that seems to offer at least a chance for asylum for those who can reach our borders. These are major problems that the dispatch of thousands of troops will not solve.

Our president threatens to cut off economic assistance to the three small nations involved (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) when what we should do is to devote a tiny bit of our national resources to creating jobs and better government in the Northern Triangle. If we were to get out of Afghanistan, or tack half a percentage point on to the income tax of the richest of us, we could do this without raising a sweat or the size of the debt.

Such an investment, a small-scale Marshall Plan, would not only reduce the desire to emigrate, it would serve to discredit the current excuses for illegal immigration.

In addition, we should adjust our laws to make it clear that just because an alien is poor, or that there is a gang around the corner, does not make them eligible to come to the States.

But as long as we do not move on either of these fronts, the illicit movements from the Northern Triangle, in one form or another, will continue at the current or higher rates.