Donald Trump is a master at garnering and directing attention. With one tweet he can ignite a debate on any topic he chooses, while simultaneously taking a head start by expressing his own definitive opinion to his tens of millions of followers. In some cases, because the American President’s habits are so predictable, and so well publicized, it’s possible to trace almost to the second the moment in which the notoriously fickle Trump grabs hold of a notion. On Easter Sunday, of all days, what caught the President’s attention was a report on the television talk show Fox and Friends regarding a large “army” of Central American migrants that was “literally marching or riding or making their way” across Mexico towards the United States.
The fearless journalists at Fox became aware of this “army” which, they grudgingly admitted, was “marching peacefully,” through the reporting of BuzzFeed correspondent Adolfo Flores. In a series of dispatches, and especially through his Twitter account, Flores was documenting the day-to-day experiences of the over 1,200 migrants, men, women, and children, mostly from Honduras, who had gathered under the auspices of the organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras (Peoples without Borders) to travel together in their quest for political asylum and humanitarian protection, or at minimum a drop of human compassion.
They found no such thing among the panelists of Fox and Friends. In short order, they castigated Flores for “celebrating” the march, charged People Without Borders with having a pernicious political “agenda,” and discussed at length the need for these people to be arrested and deported should they dare to set up within American territory.
President Donald Trump, who against all evidence claims that he doesn’t watch television, almost immediately tweeted that “caravans” were coming, and that “tough laws” must be passed “NOW.” “No more DACA deal!” Trump thundered. If Mexico didn’t stop the caravan, “I will stop their cash cow NAFTA.” And so, just like that, the world’s attention was suddenly turned to a few hundred formerly invisible Hondurans trying to find a safe spot to spend the night.
The press, following Trump, continued calling them a “caravan” (though not an “army,” like the irresponsible alarmists at Fox and Friends initially reported it). Few in the English-speaking world know that they call themselves not a caravan, which suggests an orderly, purposeful progression, but a “viacrucis” alluding instead to the sorrowful, harrowing voyage of Jesus Christ towards his death on the cross.
That is because, as Flores’ excellent reporting has shown, this is not a caravan, and it’s certainly not an army. It’s a collection of individuals, families, and small groups who came together thanks to People Without Borders for self-protection and increased collective impact. They are escaping from some of the poorest, most violence-plagued areas in the world. All they want is life and dignity for themselves and their families.
The stunt seems to have worked well for Trump, who’s been on the outs with some of his supporters for the slow pace in making his signature promise, a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a reality. By completely overreacting to the caravan, which was but one of many, the fifth organized by People Without Borders alone, Trump demonstrated his commitment to the fight against illegal immigration. As a bonus, he put pressure on Mexican officials to react to his pronouncements, which they did, essentially disbanding the march while at the same time assuring skeptical observers that they were not at all prompted by Trump the Mover of Worlds. Mexico will soon hold its own presidential election, and Donald Trump is and will continue to be a core feature of the competing campaigns.
So, the Viacrucis Migrante is over, and Trump gets to claim a victory, albeit one that (once again) sheds light on the prejudiced, ignorant, and callous nature of his administration’s immigration policies.
What’s so ironic is that caravans such as this one should be welcomed by the Trump administration as a help to accomplishing its goals. If the idea is to reduce the number of people who sneak through the border illegally, to properly vet asylum seekers, and to protect everyone involved from violence, then it’s better that migrants are moving together in large groups rather than separately in impossible-to-track bands.
By precipitating the dismantling of the caravan, Trump has increased the chances of solitary individuals or small groups trying to sneak in rather than hand themselves to authorities, making it all the more difficult to figure out whether they are dangerous criminals, gang members, or drug traffickers. It also, not that he nor his pals at Fox and Friends give the smallest whit, puts the migrants at greater risk since they don’t have the protection of numbers around them.
As the last remnants of the caravan went their separate ways, many to jail, many to die, the Trump administration announced the discontinuance of the Legal Orientation Program, a program designed to inform detained foreigners of their legal rights. The message is unambiguous: the Trump administration does not care for these people to know their legal rights. They don’t belong here. They should just go.
Those who care about basic human rights and dignity, regardless of their position on the morality or lack thereof of the current American immigration system, should keep their eyes on the United States’ southern border, where people will continue to be, and continue to cross through or try to, and where a President who sees in a mass of poor and desperate migrants an invading army is planning to send his troops.