The migrant caravan making its way through Honduras and into Mexico has sent President Trump into a dizzying, racist crusade. Despite the fact that the number of illegal border-crossings are at a record low, the paranoia and xenophobia surrounding immigration is one of Trump’s most utilized talking points. On Twitter and at rallies, he has called the caravan a threat to the United States. He most recently stated that “criminals and Middle Easterners” have embedded themselves into the nearly 7,000-people caravan walking through Mexico.
That’s not true, and on Tuesday he admitted that he has no evidence to support the claim. But that’s just one of the many misconceptions swirling around. Here’s what you actually need to know about the migrant caravan.
Who are the 7,000 migrants?
The vast majority of people who are participating in the migrant caravan are fleeing unlivable conditions brought on by unstable governments, climate change, economic insecurity, and violence from the state and from criminal organizations. Many of the people are from Honduras, but others are from Guatemala and El Salvador. Many women and children are among those walking, but the demographics of the caravan include people of all ages and genders.
What is a migrant caravan? And why is it happening?
Migrant caravans are not new. CBS News reported that this is believed to be the largest caravan on record, but the strategy has been used for decades — and similar migrant caravans occur all over the world, especially when leaving conflict zones or natural disasters. This is not even the first caravan that has made its way toward the U.S. border during the Trump administration.
Migrants may have several reasons for choosing to enter another country as a caravan. The trip from a Central American country to the United States is very dangerous; those who choose to make their way to the U.S. this way face constant threats of theft, kidnapping, arrests, rape, and death. Crossing borders can also be expensive: Paying a trafficker can cost up to $7,000, which is often necessary to ensure relatively safe passage. In addition, transit and living expenses must be factored in, and health care can be very costly in cases of injury or sickness.
Their visibility is also a political act — not of any ideology but to demonstrate the scale of the crises in their respective countries. Many of the problems Central Americans are fleeing were caused, at least in part, by U.S. interference in the region throughout the 20th century.
Additionally, for those in the caravan seeking asylum in the U.S., the march through Honduras and into Mexico has drawn focus on how hard the process is. Applying for asylum is a long, difficult ordeal under any version of U.S. immigration policy, and needlessly cruel under Trump’s administration, and the Trump administration is constantly trying to “toughen” existing “loopholes” in the law, most egregiously by eliminating protections for victims of gang violence and domestic violence.
How did the migrant caravan start?
On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that many of the Hondurans in the caravan found out about it through social media. Many people saw the posts after waiting for months or years for a way to leave the country and packed their belongings within hours. Vice-President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that the caravan was funded by left-wing Venezuelans. There is no evidence to support this claim.
Another major factor involves a man named Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran legislator and migration expert who advocates for migrant rights in Mexico and Central America. According to the Daily Beast, a report on Honduras’s most popular cable TV network about a month ago featured a woman from the caravan who spoke about safety in numbers; the network’s anchors then falsely implied that Fuentes would pay for the migrants’ food and transportation. Fuentes insists that he never said this. He did share a Facebook post on October 4 about a migrant march, but the post was about fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, and made no promises of financial support. But he has been called a political agitator nonetheless, and has been accused of trying to “show Honduras as a failed country.”
Is there really a crisis?
Yes, and no. For the migrants seeking asylum in the caravan, yes. They are risking safety to take part in a multiple-month–long walk across thousands of miles, leaving behind the known dangers and challenges of their homes for uncertain futures: They could be stopped in Mexico and deported, they could make it to Mexico but be unable to make it to the U.S., or they could make it to the border and then be detained by the government.
In the United States, there is only a crisis of optics. For Trump and the GOP, the caravan serves as a glaring reminder that the administration has been unsuccessful on delivering campaign promises for a border wall. But there is no real crisis for anyone who is not in the caravan. Even if every single person in the caravan was given asylum in the U.S., it’s extremely unlikely that most Americans would notice. The caravan would represent 0.00018918918 percent of the current documented immigrant population in the country.
What will happen to the caravan?
There is no telling what could happen to each person traveling in the group. It is likely that the caravan will grow smaller, with people who are unable to continue traveling on foot deciding to go back or remain where they are. Many migrants are currently being detained by Mexican authorities, who are acting as a de facto border-control agency for the United States. It is unclear how many people actually intend to make it all the way to the U.S., and of that group, who will try to apply for asylum or enter undocumented.
Trump has threatened to use military force against the migrants, but it will be weeks and months before the caravan makes it near the United States. The migrant caravan is far away — the total journey will be over 1,100 miles, and they’re walking. Trump also threatened to cut aid to Central American countries as retaliation — this would need to be approved by Congress, and has also been widely determined to be an ineffective deterrent.
Why is Trump sending 800 troops to the border?
On Thursday morning, the Associated Press confirmed a report that the Department of Homeland Security requested an additional 800 troops to be sent to the U.S.–Mexico border. The request follows tweets from the president, which said he would “bring out the military” in response to the border.
The additional troops will be used to provide logistical support, and will be added to 2,100 National Guard soldiers that are already there — NBC News reports that the troops sent will assist with ongoing Customs and Border Patrol operations, and will not be outfitted as riot police.
Trump also told the people traveling in the caravan, which is still at least a thousand miles away from the U.S., to “turnaround.” The additional troops at the border are not an unheard-of measure: More and more soldiers have been sent in the past few years, including under the Obama administration. Anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to motivate Trump’s supporters.
“Wait’ll you see what happens over the next couple of weeks. You’re going to see a very secure border. You just watch,” he said at a rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night. “And the military is ready. They’re all set.”
Some have speculated that sending the troops was a way to shift focus away from his administration’s inability to build more of the border wall.
Why is the U.S. government sending 5,200 active-duty troops to the border?
According to Reuters, an additional 5,200 troops are being sent to the border. General Terrence O’Shaughnessy said on Monday that these armed troops will be in addition to the 800 troops already being sent to the border. These troops will not be National Guard reserves, which has been the norm for past operations.
These soldiers will be active-duty service members, and they will be at the border by the end of the week. Even more troops may be expected, potentially putting more armed soldiers at the border than the number of people expected to arrive from the caravan.
“That is just the start of this operation. We will continue to adjust the number and inform you of those,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But please know that is in addition to the 2,092 that are already employed from our National Guard troops.”
The announcement follows a tweet from President Trump promising that the military will be waiting to meet the caravan, which he said is filled with “many gang members.”
There has not been any evidence to support the claim that “very bad people” are among the thousands of people walking north are gang members.
Why are there federal agents in riot gear at the border?
On Monday, footage was live streamed to Facebook of border security agents decked out in full tactical gear and facemasks at the border by Puente Libre. According to the Desert Sun, immigration activists believe that this is part of a larger effort on behalf of the Trump administration to dissuade migrants from seeking asylum.
The Daily Beast reported that hundreds of border agents working for CBP ICE were sent to shut down Paso Del Norte, one of the points of entry between the U.S. and Mexico to completed training drills. The agents wore face masks, and were reportedly preparing for the migrant caravan filled with asylum seekers fleeing Central America.
“CBP is currently monitoring the situation regarding the caravan migrating from Central America toward the U.S. border,” a spokesperson for CBP told the Daily Beast. “we will not allow a large group to enter the U.S. unlawfully.”
Considering that the caravan is still hundreds of miles away, the measure seems to be simply for optics. Immigration advocates told the Daily Beast that it is completely unnecessary for agents in riot gear to be training at the border.