Written by Vera Ting
At the beginning of October, a gathering of less than two hundred Central Americans formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and began their northward journey towards what they hoped would be a better future. In the following weeks, the group’s number grew by thousands. Many sources have called this group of people “migrants” as they continue to move closer towards the U.S. border, and others have antagonized this as another example of the growing “migrant crisis.” However, these simplifications on the reasons behind this group’s journey and the goal going forward overlook the complex history and humanitarian aspects that truly identify the story of these Central Americans.
The attention placed on the refugees can, in part, be attributed to the intense midterm election that occurred this year. Conservative media outlets continued to focus on the group’s migration as the country came closer towards the election. President Trump, at a rally in Houston, stated,
“That is an assault on our country and in that caravan, you have some very bad people and we can’t let that happen to our country.” Without any evidence to support his statements, he continued, “I think the Democrats had something to do with it.”
Several of the president’s tweets have also followed a similar line of thought, with one of them stating, “All Democrats fault for weak laws!” Another stated,
“I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S.”
The emphasis on migration as an issue can be related back to Trump’s initial platform on stricter immigration policy during the 2016 presidential race, which was a defining issue in rallying his conservative base. With the tight midterm race that occurred this year, Trump and several Republican candidates have once again utilized the issue to deflect from other topics that have been raised, such as healthcare.
The suggestions that the mass is bringing along “bad people” and criminals is in reference to the long history of gang violence, the most infamous being MS-13, that has been active in Central America and a suggestion of unknown Middle Eastern forces involved as well. However, Kelli Korducki has suggested that the issues faced in Central America at the moment are caused by U.S. intervention:
“US-funded military coups, resource exploitation, and American policies of economic neoliberalism in El Salvador have destabilized the entire region, and effectively created a climate where paramilitary-aligned drug cartels can thrive.”
Many of the articles being put out on the refugees do not emphasize this aspect of history and its role on the exodus that is actually occurring. The focus on the group was part of Republican tactics in this year’s midterms that played on race and fear. This tactic was not only seen with their emphasis on Central American migrations but also with the way cultural anxieties were stoked in local elections. For example, Antonio Delgado, the Democratic congressional candidate for Dutchess County in and the surrounding areas in New York State, had been repeatedly branded by ads as a “big-city rapper.” This is a contrast with the ads that aired on the Republican candidate, John Faso, which focused on Faso’s positions on healthcare.
On the Republican tactic to focus on race, Alexander Burns and Astead W. Herndon of the New York Times wrote,
“Most pervasive have been broad and largely false claims that Democrats support an ‘open borders’ immigration policy that would lead to a vast influx of violent crime. Republicans have deployed that charge in countless elections, and are now linking mainstream Democrats who support immigration reforms to far-left activists who favor abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Republicans are also accusing Democrats, without evidence, of going soft on MS-13, a Latin American gang that Mr. Trump regularly depicts as a national menace.”
The distance and dehumanization that has been placed on the Central Americans currently escaping Honduras and other inhospitable areas in the region have detracted from the people’s plight. In an inside look on the refugees move done by CNN, the people embarking on the journey have cited multiple reasons and causes for their decision to leave their homes in the area that go far beyond the antagonistic motivations that President Trump and other politicians have accused of them.
This antagonism of the Central American refugees is only one aspect of the current anti-immigration stance that the current administration has taken. Policies that separate families that cross the border illegally have been an issue for some time.
Just last June, the “zero tolerance” policy that President Trump attempted to impose lead to the separation of over 2,500 children from their parents. Local congressional members in the lower Hudson Valley protested the fact that they were not allowed to see the immigrant children that were being housed in the area. The federal Department of Health and Human Services that contracts the agencies which house the kids prohibited the members of Congress from entering. These policies have caused further local outrage. The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, which represents school chiefs in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, and Dutchess in a statement said, “We need to halt needless cruelty against these vulnerable children and their families immediately.”
The broader, global outrage that the policy faced led to an unprecedented retreat on the President’s part that has only recently been flared by the current Central American exodus and the midterm election. With the group left with still much of Mexico to cross, and a heavily-armed military presence possibly waiting for them at the U.S. borders, their outcome is yet to be determined.