The Migrant Caravan: Why Is This Journey Different?
As you read this, around 7000 people have been trekking to the US from Honduras, a journey that is more than 2,500km. They are approaching the US border just in time for one of the most crucial rounds of Midterm elections. Migrants travelling as a caravan isn’t a new concept. The power of group travelling saves migrants from having to pay a coyote or a people smuggler, as well as offering some hope of protection from gangs who target them for kidnap, extortion and rape, and Mexican migration checkpoints which have sprung up across the country. Caravans have happened before, but what is unique about this one?
The unprecedented size of this migrant caravan makes it important.
The scale of this caravan is yet to be determined on Tuesday - Mexico’s interior ministry put the figure at 4,500 – but local officials in the area of Huixtla estimated the number of participants closer to 6,000. However, UN officials said there were 7,200 migrants, making it the largest estimate. Whilst there isn’t anything new about migrant caravans, CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz said “That's about five times the size of the last one in April” and is believed to be largest on record.
This shows that, despite the hostility of Trump's government to immigrants and the family separation scandal, there is still a demand for immigrants to head to America. In the UK, talk of Brexit has reduced migration, but building walls and detention centres do not seem to have the same effect in the Americas.
The migrant crisis emphasises the extent to which poverty and crime have increased, making Central America into one of the most dangerous regions of the world.
Many Nicaraguan migrants say they left to escape political unrest and the violent government crackdown, which has claimed more than 300 lives. Whereas Hondurans from the town of San Pedro Sula, commonly referred to as the “murder capital of the world”, have hopes of arriving to present themselves for asylum in Mexico or the United States. US vice-president, Mike Pence has claimed that the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández said the Venezuelan government has funded the caravan, but there is no evidence to support this. This crisis is a result of the lack of governance in South America and crime.
The timing of this migrant caravan during the mid-term election could benefit the Republican party.
According to a survey conducted by Reuters and Ipsos, Republicans ages of 55 and older scored an average 7.9 in anger about illegal immigration (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely angry).Republicans have consistently named illegal immigration as the most important issue facing the US and argued for a tougher stance than the Democrats. It is important to remember Obama as the “deporter in chief”, holding the record for deporting more immigrants than any other president, with more than 2 million deportations over eight years. President Trump has tweeted that he would declare a "national emergency"over this issue, and the Pentagon is sending 800 or more additional troops to the border. Likewise, Trump has fuelled racial fears by tweeting that the caravan contained criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners”a claim unsupported by any evidence. It is clear that Trump has played the racial prejudices to encourage his base to “remember the midterms” every time they see the caravan. The Telegraph reporter Nick Allen argues that “The migrant caravan is the gift that keeps on giving for Donald Trump's midterm elections campaign”.
America needs more migrant labourers, as the US’s Free trade needs free movement of workers.
There is an irrationality of Trump's outlook of promoting economic competition and the elimination of tariffs, but not the free movement of workers across borders. There is a huge demand for cheap, reliable labour and immigrant workers from South America are willing to supply the demand. For many South American countries migrant labour is their biggest export and the money made by migrants support their families. Frans J. Schryer argues that “The only way to prevent a further decline of the U.S. economy is a dual policy that combines the legalization of current undocumented workers with a bigger and better migrant workers’ program”.
In addition, John Cassidy of the New Yorker argues that the US needs more immigrants, particularly younger immigrants, so that, in the coming decades, they and their descendants will find work and contribute to the tax base that will support the baby-boomer generation
It is evident that this migrant caravan will have a serious effect on American politics. External factors have been a prevailing force for Trump in the elections, as the Russian interference played a significant role in the presidential election. It is entirely possible that this migrant caravan could have a similar role in the mid-terms. Despite this, America will continue to have a conflicted relationship with immigration as the country relies on a migrant labour force. This, nevertheless, is merely just one of many chapters of America’s story with immigration.