Trump slams the door shut on migrants

May 2, 2018

Nicole Colson reports on the standoff between the Trump administration and the remaining participants in a caravan of Central American migrants asking for refuge.

AS VICE President Mike Pence toured an increasingly militarized border and Donald Trump unleashed a new barrage of racist anti-immigrant rhetoric, the pleas of hundreds of migrants begging for sanctuary in the U.S., were cruelly rebuffed this week.

After a month of arduous travel by bus, train and on foot, hundreds of migrants arrived at the U.S. border crossing with Mexico on April 29--where they were summarily denied entry, in violation of U.S. and international law.

To add insult to injury, the Department of Justice filed charges against 11 of the migrants for illegally attempting to enter the U.S., even as many spent the night sleeping outside of a processing center in Tijuana, Mexico, vowing to stay until they are admitted.

Such caravans aren't new. Migrants coming from Central America to seek refuge in the U.S. have long traveled together for greater safety during an arduous and dangerous journey.

This caravan is different not only because it was somewhat larger at its height, but also because it was organized as a specific response to the racist, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration--to demand the right to asylum, an end to deportations and the extension of programs threatened by the Trump administration like Temporary Protected Status for migrants from countries such as Honduras.

A caravan of Central American migrants reaches the U.S.-Mexico border
A caravan of Central American migrants reaches the U.S.-Mexico border

Many of those in the caravan are fleeing violence fueled by gangs and drugs in their home countries. Under U.S. regulations, they should have the right to file for asylum when they arrive at the border.

Instead, Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan initially released a statement saying that the San Ysidro port of entry had "reached capacity."

That's a lie, as one migrant caravan member told ABC News: "The United States government is the most powerful government on the planet. One of the most richest governments on the planet. We can build a base in Iraq in under a week, [yet] we can't process 200 refugees? I don't believe it."

AT ITS height, the caravan grew to as many as 1,500 migrants--seeking safety for themselves and their children after fleeing drugs and gangs in Central American countries that are, in large part, a consequence of the U.S. "war on drugs."

With Trump and other officials, spurred on by Fox News and the right-wing media, threatening a crackdown on the migrants, hundreds chose to drop out of the journey, returning home or seeking shelter in Mexico instead. By the time the caravan arrived in Tijuana, its numbers had dwindled to around 200.

A day after they arrived and were denied the chance to apply for asylum, more than 100 of the migrants relocated to the El Chaparral border crossing--with a heavy contingent of supporters and press in tow.

U.S. officials allowed eight of the migrants to enter the checkpoint and start the process of formally requesting asylum, and more were apparently going to be allowed to do so in the coming days.

But it was unclear as this article was being written how long it would take for all of them to be allowed to even apply. Meanwhile, the processing of claims will reportedly take years, leaving the migrants in a state of limbo.

The New York Times described the scene as the contingent--smeared repeatedly by Trump as dangerous lawbreakers who pose a security threat to the homeland--settled in to sleep and wait:

As the cold night fell, they unpacked the few warm clothes they carried in knapsacks and plastic bags, huddled under donated blankets and ate sandwiches distributed by volunteers. By daybreak, they had strung up plastic tarps to shield them from the sun and rain, and they vowed to stay until the asylum seekers among them were permitted to step on American soil and petition for protection.

Many of the migrants faced much worse back home. "This is the least of their suffering," Irineo Mujica, the Mexico director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group that organized the caravan, told the Times.

That includes Gabriela Hernandez, a pregnant mother who traveled hundreds of miles on foot and hundreds more by bus, with no money and little food, from her home in Northwestern Honduras.

Along the way, she was forced to beg for money to pay for food for her 2-year-old and 6-year-old sons, and her 2-year-old came down with pneumonia. After he suffered a convulsion, a doctor said he should be hospitalized--but the family could not afford the time or treatment. "I told [the doctor] I can't, I have to keeping moving north. I can't let this caravan leave me behind again," she told CNN.

And these are the people who Trump rants about being "dangerous."

EVEN AS the migrants were arriving in Tijuana, 120 miles east in Imperial, California, Mike Pence was lauding new construction to "reinforce" a section of the border wall built in the 1990s.

Addressing U.S. Customs and Border Patrol employees, Pence sounded a lot like his boss when he boasted: "This is the beginning of keeping our promise to the American people that we're going to build a wall."

Pence claimed that the caravan arriving in Tijuana was "the result of individuals who are attempting to exploit the suffering of the people of Central America."

In reality, it's the U.S. that routinely exploits the suffering of immigrants. Big business depends on a low-wage, largely undocumented section of the workforce to provide agricultural and other labor, while demanding that those immigrants stay in the shadows and accept second-class treatment.

As if there was any doubt about the racist scapegoating underlying his policies, Trump started off an April 28 speech in Michigan by asking the crowd: "Any Hispanics in the room?" Met with mostly silence (and some boos, naturally), he went on: "Nah, not so many? That's okay."

Referring to the caravan specifically, the Bigot-in-Chief threatened that he would "close down the country" if "we don't get border security." Repeating the utter lie that as soon as asylum seekers step over the border, "we have to take them into our country," Trump rambled on:

Are you watching that mess that's going on right now with the caravan coming up? Are you watching this and our laws are so weak, they're so pathetic. Given to us by Democrats...

One of the reasons [that Democrats support immigration] is because the Democrats actually feel, and they're probably right, that all of these people that are pouring across are going to vote for Democrats. They're not going to vote for Republicans.

Leaving aside Trump's delusional racism about the supposed hordes of undocumented immigrants crossing the border to vote against him, it's worth remembering that the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any other administration previous to it.

Today, the Democrats' support for the migrant caravan has been muted, at best. At worst, they've aided and abetted Trump's crimes against immigrants--as when California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, supposedly a champion of sanctuary policies, sent National Guard troops to the border to aid in enforcement of immigration law.

But in opposition to Trump's message are the dozens of American volunteers who have reportedly offered to open their homes to give sanctuary to the migrants in the caravan. As Heather Cronk, co-director of Showing Up for Racial Justice--a group that is coordinating some volunteers--told the Los Angeles Times:

Not only are we providing material support, supporting those who are in need of a place to go...We offer a counter-message. We want to make very clear to the folks who are in the caravan and those across the country that Trump's voice is not the only voice in this country. Where Trump closes doors, we open them.

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