Kelly Coons ’22 | Assistant Opinions Editor
Migrant caravans are nothing new in U.S. history. In the past decade, the U.S. Border Control has arrested 5,042,872 people from Mexico and the Northern Triangle (made up of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador): 3,867,886 from Mexico, 446,220 from Guatemala, 378,080 from Honduras and 350,686 from El Salvador.
These numbers are already so large that they can be hard to comprehend, but it appears that they are about to get even bigger. In order to get to the southern U.S. border, people from the Northern Triangle must travel for weeks through Central America and Mexico. Vox reports that since 2013, applications for asylum in Mexico have increased by over 1000%. Yet, Mexico isn’t always safe for asylum seekers. With a two-year backlog, claims of long-term detention and drug and gang violence of its own, Mexico poses many risks to migrants. This danger has been exacerbated by U.S. enlistment of Mexico to arrest migrants and refugees before they get to the United States. Thus, many asylum seekers have turned to hypervisibility: travelling in large groups for safety.
This process has brought together this most recent group headed towards the United States. On Oct.12, about 160 people from Honduras left San Pedro Sula: a town that Vox has called “the murder capital of the world.” By Oct. 15, the population of the caravan had increased by ten times and had arrived at the Guatemalan border. Once there, the government of Guatemala attempted to close the border. On Oct. 19, now about 3,000 people strong, the caravan arrived at Guatemala’s border with Mexico, where Mexican forces with pepper spray tried to drive them back. As of Oct. 24, the Mexican government reports that it has processed 1,743 asylum applications, but many are choosing to swim to the United States without documentation, fearing further violence in Mexico.
The asylum seekers have countless reasons to flee: many of them are running from violence, poverty and political persecution. However, one reason unites them: they have chosen to go on this journey, despite being aware of the danger, because they believe the risk is worth taking for the chance at a better life. In September, unaccompanied children and families composed more than half of all people who were arrested by Border Control: a 17% increase from September 2013. This demographic shift is not accompanied by an overall increase in migration.
The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration has sent 800 troops to the southern border in response to this group. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that there are no tanks or combat troops within this group of 800 and emphasized that there are doctors among them. These 800 troops will be joining the 1,600 Guard troops already at the border, primarily in Texas. They are not authorized to arrest, have weapons or talk to migrants and refugees.
So that’s good, right? Well, it’s better than outright attacking, but these asylum seekers deserve more from us. Not attacking is not the same as being kind or even humane. While cynics can point to the logistical nightmare that caravans like these represent, we must look beyond the numbers.
Fear-mongering is widespread. The viral photographs that claim to be from the Latin American caravan are actually from unrelated events, some from as far back as 2010. Yet, the backing of figures like Donald Trump and Virginia Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, make these images appear as the truth. Migrants and refugees are a part of the fabric of the American identity, but more than that, they are humans. If you were faced with abject poverty, rampant killings, political persecution or all of the above, wouldn’t you leave?