On October 12, 2018, around 160 Hondurans from the infamous town of San Pedro Sula decided to ban together for safety and head toward the United States. Soon, their numbers started growing. By the time the so-called Migrant Caravan had reached the Mexican-Guatemalan border and pushed beyond several attempts to stop the mass of people, somewhere around 7,000 individuals had joined the original group. Their apparent objective is asylum and opportunity in a foreign land. Unfortunately, their trajectory sets them on a collision course with the US-Mexican border and a hostile political climate. Immigration is both a domestic and foreign affairs issue that has plagued the United States for decades. By reducing the Migrant Caravan to a question of US policy, however, pivotal insights about mass migration are missed and opportunities to solve the humanitarian issues driving mass migration are lost.
Although the size of the Migrant Caravan represents only a small fraction of those who seek entry into the United States every year, and it is not the first migrant caravan that set out for the US border in 2018, the sheer size of the Migrant Caravan alarmed members of the Trump Administration. Naturally, the US political system, amid a pivotal midterm election cycle defined mainly by power politics, seized upon the impending migrant crisis. Republicans have sought to stoke fears of an alien invasion while obscuring their lack of solutions by blaming Democrats for their alleged refusal to support solutions. Democrats, for their part, have largely remained silent in terms of what should be done, if anything. Quite frankly, many believe the Migrant Caravan will simply disperse or immigration controls will be effective enough to address the large influx of asylum seekers. In other words, they believe Trump has simply invented a crisis out of a routine issue.
The size of the Migrant Caravan is not necessarily alarming from a national security perspective, but the reality that immigration patterns are evolving should attract justifiable scrutiny. Not only did the Obama Administration also face a mass migration crisis of its own, e.g. the Child Immigrant Crisis in 2014, European leaders struggled to cope with the Syrian Refugee Crisis for years while Asian leaders largely neglected the Rohingya and Bangladeshi Refugee Crisis of 2015. Mass immigration is on the rise due to war and economic instability. Truth be told, immigration is a natural reaction to changing environmental conditions, so mass immigration is not inherently good or bad. The problem is that mass immigration tests the ability of communities, from towns to nations, to cope with external and internal immigration. The Migrant Caravan came together, because a significant number of individuals realized there was safety in numbers and others decided to join their movement. The legitimate concern is that more and more immigrants will utilize migrant caravans to ensure their safety and overwhelm border security, thus significantly larger migrant caravans might be a thing of the future.
With that in mind, it is easy to simply view issues like mass migration in terms of national security. It is also easy to view issues like mass protests, which have also occurred in growing regularity over the last decade across the world, as national security threats. Mass protests occur, because protesters feel their interests are being neglected by society and they want to call attention to their plight. For those who simply dismiss protesters as “whiners,” mass demonstration are pointless attempts to elicit support for the lazy. For those who believe in the power of democracy, mass demonstrations are a form of action where protesters are saying society needs to pay attention to their plight. For immigrants, migration is a way to take control of their lives and take action without engaging in violent acts or socially harmful behaviors, e.g. drug trafficking.
Immigration, even illegal immigration, is not necessarily a political act, but it is a means of asserting one’s interests via peaceful means. Instead of engaging in protests, which often fail to deliver results and prove entirely ineffective when governing, social institutions are powerless to address detrimental social issues, illegal immigrants attempt to change their environment. Illegal immigration, in particular, runs afoul of the governments and communities of their destination countries, because laws regulating the influx of immigrants exist. Sidestepping the debate over whether or not governments should regulate migration and how liberal immigration policies should be, these laws exist for practical reasons. The most important reason is that communities, like all environments, have a carrying capacity due to the limited nature of resources. For immigrants, immigration represents opportunity; whereas, immigration represents increased competition for the domestic population, thus immigration, especially illegal immigration, tends to create social friction.
Where the Obama Administration attempted to address immigration with diplomatic engagment and initiatives like the DACA program, the Trump Administration has essentially taken the opposite approach. In doing so, the Trump Administration has inflamed tensions between nations with ultimatums dysfunctional countries like Honduras and Guatemala cannot enact. Obama, for his part, helped immigrant children and prevented the immigration crisis from turning into a geopolitical crisis, but he solved little. Mass migration is likely to be a fixture of a future defined by economic inequality and social instability. The migrants will be those who want to do something about the issues they face in their communities, but do not feel they have the ability to change their communities. They will be the ones who feel their only hope for a better life is to find a better socioeconomic environment where they can thrive and voice their needs. Turning to international laws and heading toward more prosperous lands where they know their voices have power is their only way of finding empowerment. To help blunt the negative impact of mass immigration, the US must work with its neighbors to help empower would-be migrants, so they can transform their homelands into environments where they can thrive and have their voices heard.
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