The caravan of a few thousand Central American refugees traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border is a desperate journey of survival. People are walking and sometimes riding on trucks to the border, more than 1000 miles away, to apply for asylum. This may be the largest single caravan of migrants to the U.S. in recent history, but it is not that unusual. For decades smaller caravans of migrants have traveled from Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. The decision to leave their home countries and their families, and risk their lives in this journey is not an easy one. In their home countries migrants face brutal and corrupt governments, gang death threats, crippling poverty, and environmental catastrophe. Thousands of farmers have been driven from their lands by years of drought that makes farming impossible. Migrants travel in caravans as a way to provide some security against gangs that regularly attack them throughout their journey, often robbing, raping, kidnapping or killing them.
This recent caravan began in Honduras with about 150 migrants in response to the miserable living conditions there. But the caravan swelled to about 7,000 people once word spread and attracted migrants throughout the country and from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. More than half of the migrants are women and young girls. One mother traveling with her two daughters said about the journey: “We prefer to die on the American border than die in Honduras from hunger.”
An initial slogan of the caravan was: “The violence and poverty is expelling us.” In Honduras, more than 66% of the population lives in poverty, and 20% live on less than $1.90 per day, regularly going without food during the year. In the poorest areas, 49% of people suffer from malnutrition and 34% of children have stunted development. Over 15% of the population is unemployed. With one of the highest murder rates in the world, Honduras is overwhelmed by the armed violence of criminal gangs and corrupt government, police and military forces.
President Trump has decided to use the images of migrants fleeing life-and-death situations as a way to spew his vile racism, hoping that the fear and hatred he stokes will lead to support for Republicans in the mid-term elections and his 2020 re-election campaign. After repeatedly referring to the migrants as “criminals” who are planning an “invasion” of the U.S., Trump has sent over 5,200 active-duty troops to the U.S.–Mexico border to assist the Border Patrol. That is the same number of U.S. troops in Iraq. This is a blatant ploy to build up people’s fear and hatred of immigrants.
Trump’s attacks on immigrants are nothing new. Both Democratic and Republican administrations try to paint immigrants as villains who pose a threat. Under the Obama administration, immigrants were deported in record numbers. So far, fewer immigrants have been deported under the Trump administration than during any year under the Obama administration. In 2014 when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was asked about the tens of thousands of migrant children who have come to the border seeking asylum, she responded: “We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.” Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for attacking immigrants and portraying them as if they were criminals.
The real criminals are not migrants fighting for survival. The real criminals are those who are responsible for the horrific conditions of violence and poverty that people are fleeing. And it is the U.S. government along with U.S. corporations who are overwhelmingly responsible. For decades, the U.S. has supported brutal regimes throughout Central America. Many of the military dictatorships from the region were trained at U.S. bases and backed by U.S. funds. In 2009, the Obama administration supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, paving the way to the corrupt military dictatorship that governs there today. These policies serve to help U.S. manufacturing and agricultural corporations continue to suck the wealth out of Central America through access to resources and extremely low-paid workers.
This is the old trick of divide and conquer. To keep control, politicians encourage divisions based on nationalism, racism, and other prejudices that their system creates. The last thing politicians and those who run this society want us to recognize is that immigrants and native-born workers are on the same side of the same fight, facing the same common enemy. Migrants are fighting to survive the poverty and decay that banks and corporations, backed by the U.S. government, have imposed on their countries. And here in the U.S. it is the same banks, the same corporations and the same politicians that are responsible for the destruction of our environment, the loss of our jobs, our rip-off healthcare, our unaffordable housing, our inadequate schools, our endless debt, and the violence that plagues our whole society.
Every human being deserves the right to a fulfilling life. What stands in our way is not other workers. What stands in our way is a system that operates at our expense to benefit the rich – a system of capitalism which Trump, just like his predecessors, serves to protect. We can’t allow ourselves to be trapped by their lies. We have every reason to stand together – immigrant and native-born, legal and undocumented, black and white. Collectively, it is our labor that makes their system work for them, and together we have the ability to replace it with one that works for us.