For several days, a caravan of migrants fleeing Central America has been making its way north towards Mexico and eventually the United States. While the world watches the journey from afar, the U.S. president is already crafting his own set of messages — and perhaps even policies — around it. On Monday, Oct. 22, Donald Trump's tweets about the migrant caravan went pretty far.
Thousands of migrants from Central America have fled their countries due to violence, preferring to seek new lives in Mexico or the U.S. to avoid the threats they face back home. Per reports, the caravan is about 7,000 people in size as of Monday, and a mix of ages and nationalities, with the vast majority comprised of families. This follows reports throughout the week of Oct. 15 that the caravan was growing.
Trump began his day on Monday with a Twitter rant about the fleeing migrants, in which he blamed Democrats and referenced the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. "Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally."
The caravan appears to have developed independently over the last week. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the president's tweets regarding the caravan.
For years, people have fled the Central American countries due to gang-related violence and sought refuge in the north, according to the U.N.'s refugee agency. NPR reports that many saw the caravan as a safe way to make the journey, which can be extremely dangerous, as individuals and small groups especially are vulnerable to attack, human trafficking and gang threats. Traveling in a large group may provide safety in numbers.
Under international human rights agreements as well as U.S. law, those fleeing their homelands because of an imminent threat to their safety can apply for asylum at a port of entry at the U.S. border. Whether or not an incoming asylum seeker enters the country legally or illegally (as many often don't have the means to say, buy an international plane ticket and present themselves to a customs officer at the airport), arrivals have the right to claim asylum by saying as such to any border patrol and in theory, are to be granted an interview to determine whether their asylum application will move forward.
Trump had the caravan on his radar all through the week of Oct. 15 and weekend, and made clear he was intending to stop its progression in an Oct. 18 speech at a rally in Montana. But things continued to escalate as the week began. Many on Twitter noted a parallel between the Monday morning airing of Fox & Friends, which presented an unsubstantiated claim that radical Islamic terrorists were among the caravaners, and a tweet by Trump shortly thereafter appearing to promote the claim as fact, writing, "Middle Easterners are mixed in." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claim.
The Fox & Friends host added that the claim, apparently made by a Guatemalan official, was not vetted, and The New York Times added that there is no history of Middle Eastern terrorists crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in this fashion. But the caravan, and the mix of true and false narratives around it, apparently spurred the president to call the caravan "a National Emergy [sic]," and went so far as to call for changing laws, though what laws he was referring to was unclear.
He also appeared, in his tweets, to take foreign policy steps to penalize the Central American countries. Referring to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, Trump tweeted, "We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them." The White House did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on whether the president was planning any foreign policy changes based on the caravan.
Meanwhile, photos, videos, and reports from journalists traveling with the caravan shows how the progress is going, but also how grueling — not to mention harrowing — the long journey can be.
It's not altogether surprising that Trump called for "blam[ing] Democrats" about the caravan and the larger migrant crisis, given that his infamous border wall with Mexico was one of his key agenda items on his 2016 platform when he ran for president, and illegal immigration has continued to be a central issue in his administration. Whether voters will in fact be influenced by the president's midterms rallying cry, though, will be apparent when voters head to the polls in just a few short weeks. We'll see.