A Quick Explainer on the Migrant Caravan, Trump’s Tweets, and Women’s Courage.
We are still a country that helps each other in times of need.
A migrant caravan is making its way from Central America to the United States.
Maybe you heard about it from Trump tweeting, maybe you haven’t. Maybe he heard about it from Fox News.
The migrant caravan is men, women, and children fleeing violence and political repression and seeking safety in the US.
Who’s on it? At one point it was estimated that nearly 1,500 people were participating? Why such a big group?
There’s at least two reasons its happening. One is safety. The journey north is not just hard for anyone to do alone — it’s also perilous. People migrating are often targets for robbery, extortion, and especially for women making the journey, sexual assault.
The caravan is a way for people to band together to support and protect each other along the way.
The second reason it’s larger this year than before (yah, it’s happened before. Apparently this is like the fifth year a volunteer group called Pueblo Sin Fronteras has organized it.) is because of a recent spike in political repression in Honduras, where many of the participants are coming from.
It’s helpful to read up on what’s been happening in Honduras to understand the caravan as displaced people forced to become asylum seekers and refugees.
Conditions in Honduras were bad before the most recent election. The country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, 55% unemployment, and a history of corruption.
In the most recent elections, the standing President who altered the laws so he could run again initially lost to the opposition but used alleged fraud and definite live bullets and the military to hold on to the seat of power (backed by Trump of course).
The stories of the caravan have mostly been silenced. As these asylum seekers run from threats in their home country, threats from the President wait for them as they hope to make their legal case for refuge.
But the stories we know are telling. Maria Elena Colindres Ortega, 43, was a congresswoman in Honduras until January. After the transition in politicla parties, she decided she needed to take off to seek political asylum. Otherwise, she explained, she’d be waiting “for them to kill me.”
A group of transgender women are escaping discrimination.
A grandmother from El Salvador, Sonia, is making the trek with her two grandchildren. She ran a bakery there, but faced extortion and saw her daughter violated and the father of one of her grandchildren killed for not paying what was demanded.
What’s waiting for the caravan when it arrives?
The answer to that has two parts. One is Trump. The other is the rest of us.
On Easter Sunday, Trump started tweeting out about the caravan.
Since then, he’s called for the national guard to be deployed to stand around in the desert and prepare for their arrival.
He’s called for even more narrow guidelines for asylum. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put quotas on immigration judges. His plan is to intimidate, deter, detain, prosecute, and deport as much as possible.
Many of the caravan members plan to present themselves to Border Patrol agents and formally request asylum.
Most of us know so little about how our immigration laws work that it’s easy for Fox News to say all sorts of untruths. But, the people who arrive will be actually triggering a completely legal proceeding as they seek safety in the United States. We’re actually built for this.
Asylum is a historic feature of the United States but one that we haven’t always lived up to.
The origin story of the country is about people fleeing religious persecution. And time after time, the US has been a sought after place whether it’s people escaping war or famine or natural disaster. Despite so many people’s stories relating to what’s written at the base of the Statue of Liberty, we’ve also failed at historic moments. Some of the most known examples are when during World War II 900 Jewish refugees set off from Germany in the ocean liner, the St. Louis, only to be turned away. And more famously the United States denied, Anne Frank’s family as they attempted to flee Nazi Germany.
It’s easier for us to understand asylum, refugee status, and what’s at stake historically than it is when we watch it unfolding in the present but there’s little distance between the then and the now.
The other option for what’s waiting for the #RefugeeCaravan is you.
Like on almost every single other issue, I don’t believe that Trump speaks for the majority of Americans. I believe we’re still a country that helps each other when we need it, a place that recognizes the courage and the sacrifice of people willing to go to great lengths for a better life for their family.
Since the caravan started making news, people have been making plans for how to help those who are able to seek asylum as they begin that process.
As Trump closes his doors, Americans are opening their own. We Belong Together, the feminist immigration campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance where I work, launched a pledge for people who will host refugees as the first welcome to the country they walked across a continent to find.
And others are texting messages directly to the caravan by sending “Welcome” to 97779.
The difference between someone being screened at the border and released or being held in detention for a year or more is often whether there’s someone on the other side willing to stand by their side.
As the caravan gets closer, there will be more opportunities to support and to stand in contrast to Trump. I’m following #RefugeeCaravan and the Pueblo Sin Fronteras facebook page for updates and inviting friends and family to pledge to open their homes. I hope you will as well.