We are anthropologists who work with migrants and refugees, most of whom are fleeing for their lives. We want to set the record straight. We conduct our research with migrants in Central America, Mexico, the US, and around the world. Some of us have walked with migrant caravans, with families and with individuals. We know them well. They are our confidants, partners in research, and friends, some for several decades.
Migrants from Central America and Mexico have suffered systematic racism and discrimination at the hands of U.S. administrations, from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. However, the Trump administration’s openly racist rhetoric and threats about the current migrant caravan is based on a cascade of false statements.
We want to correct five lies the Trump administration has promoted about people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.
1) There are no “terrorists” on the caravan.
Both Donald Trump and Mike Pence have publicly stated that there are “Middle Easterners” and “terrorists” in the migrant caravan. These claims are not merely false—which would imply some amount of good faith—but are, rather, patently absurd and racist.
There is no evidence of Middle Eastern refugees joining the caravan. There may be people in the caravan whose forebears left Syria or other countries in the Middle East decades ago to come to Central America and Mexico looking for work, prosperity and freedom.
These lies obscure actual solidarity happening on the ground, including the many Mexican and Guatemalan people who have fed and sheltered migrants along their route. We encourage the U.S. public and politicians to respond to the people fleeing persecution and violence with compassion and care.
2) Migrant caravans are not new and they are not “organized by Democrats to hurt Republicans.”
The word “caravan” has been used as a boogieman by the Trump administration and some US media outlets. In Latin America the word “caravan”refers to a group of people (merchants, pilgrims, friends etc.) who come together to travel in the same direction, on foot or in a vehicle. The word also connotes a group of pilgrims walking together for spiritual well-being.
Migrant caravans have been part of the migrant scene in Mexico for at least two decades—during the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. There are fewer caravans today. But none of these caravans were ever involved in political, criminal or gang violence. Caravans are not partisan and the Democrats do not fund them. The current caravan was organized by a small group of Hondurans by social media and word of mouth with no outside institutional or professional support. In fact, caravans only gained recognition in the United States after the Trump administration began vilifying them.
For years, the Mexican government has deported migrants, especially children, without due process, and has willfully ignored the murder and disappearance of thousands of Central American migrants. Caravans allow people to make their suffering and humanity visible. It is by joining together that they gain the safety and recognition necessary to expose human rights abuses.
3) The government of Honduras is not “funding” the migrant caravan.
The Trump administration’s conspiratorial claims that the caravan is organized by shadowy government actors are patently false. To the contrary, Honduras attempted to close its borders to prevent its citizens from leaving, in direct violation of international law.
Migrant caravans have been organized by priests, churches, and by migrants themselves. There has never been a caravan organized by Honduras, Mexico, or any other government. And George Soros has never funded a caravan.
What is driving the migrant caravans today is the residue of a violent military coup in 2009 that overthrew Honduras’ democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. The coup was financially supported by the U.S. Department of State. The country’s public sector—including education and healthcare—has since been decimated by the regimes that followed. Political dissent is extremely dangerous in Honduras. Prominent activists like Berta Caceres were murdered for speaking out against the current dictatorship. Honduras has become increasingly unstable with gangs and paramilitary organizations violently wrestling for control. The net result is that thousands of people and families and frightened teenagers have been displaced, and running for their lives.
4) The US does not already spend money on humanitarian aid in Central America.
Almost all aid money sent to Central America is through a multinational program, Alliance for Prosperity, which the Obama administration joined in 2015. The goal was to stimulate the local economies, to promote educational activities, to target criminal networks and to deter Central Americans from fleeing their homes. Many of us have joined Central American people in speaking out against the Alliance because most of the money has funded privatization programs and military contractors, often from the United States. Predictably, instead of building prosperity, the militarization of what was described as “humanitarian aid” has only resulted in greater violence for Central American people. Forces trained and armed to fight gangs and government corruption splintered into well-organized militias. Rather than helping poor and frightened people in Central America, U.S. aid has helped to make their countries unlivable.
5) It is not possible for the migrant caravan to “go back to their countries and apply for citizenship.”
On October 30 Trump tweeted to people in the caravan: “Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!” No one can apply for U.S. citizenship outside the United States. Only those already granted asylum in the US can apply for U.S. citizenship, a process that takes years and often subjects asylum seekers and applicants to detention and intense surveillance. All of this is wholly ignored by the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, the U.S. spends over $100 million a year on the Southern Border Plan, which pays Mexico to catch and deport Central Americans. This fund is blood money. Bribing another country to criminalize migrants headed to our borders seeking asylum is a disturbing and dangerous precedent.
The fact that Donald Trump has declared that he will not allow the migrant caravan to even apply for asylum and that he will send US troops to prevent them from attempting to do so violates our constitution and immigration laws. Trump is also at war with international law, which demands that migrants at risk in their home countries have the right to seek protection in another country.
The Trump Administration has turned upside down our American history and has ripped to shreds our American values. It feels like a desecration of our red, white and blue flag, a flag burning if you will.
The people walking in the migrant caravan are seeking protection from violence and persecution, like so many of our founding fathers and mothers and ancestors. The caravan is a van of peace and hope, not a weapon of war. Those riding and walking with the van are not our enemies. They are people like us. They are our neighbors who deserve our protection and welcome.
Seth M. Holmes
Miriam Magaña Lopez
Lina Berrio Palomo