Donald Trump

Why the Obsession with the Migrant Caravan, Mr. President?

Is Trump's anti-immigration position deeply held or just a way of getting the vote out?


If there's one thing President Donald Trump really doesn't like, it's illegal immigration. His current obsession: the "migrant caravan" of 7,000 people moving north through Mexico toward that country's border with the United States. Made up of people fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the caravan is about 1,000 miles away from the border.

The president recently asserted without evidence that caravan was hiding "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners," a claim that even reliably anti-immigrant groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) pooh-poohed. That hasn't stopped Trump, though, who has ordered 800 additional troops to the border to assist 2,100 National Guard troops already stationed there.

He is also, reports The Washington Post,


weighing a plan to shut the U.S. border to Central Americans and deny them the opportunity to seek asylum, asserting similar emergency powers used during the early 2017 "travel ban," according to administration officials and people familiar with the proposal.

Under U.S. law, foreign nationals fleeing persecution have the right to apply for asylum once they reach American soil, but the executive order under consideration would suspend that provision and bar Central Americans as a matter of national security, according to those familiar with the proposal.

One point: It bears repeating that virtually all of Trump's claims about immigrants, especially ones about them bringing drugs, crime, and disease, are factually wrong. That is also true of claims that the migrant caravans or asylees in general pose serious terrorist threats to America. As Alex Nowratesh of the Cato Institute reports,

The members of the migrant caravan will either apply for asylum at the U.S. border or try to enter illegally. From 1975 through the end of 2017, 9 Americans have been murdered in attacks committed on U.S. soil by 20 foreign-born terrorists who entered illegally or as asylees. During that time, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an asylum seeker or an illegal immigrant was about 1 in 1.3 billion per year….

During that time, about 31.3 million illegal immigrants entered the U.S. illegally (most have since emigrated, legalized, or passed away) and about 732 thousand asylum seekers have been admitted. Nine of the 20 terrorists who entered did so as illegal immigrants, meaning that about 1 terrorist entered hidden amongst every 3.48 million illegal immigrants. They killed zero people in domestic terror attacks. The 11 terrorists who entered as asylum seekers murdered 9 people in terrorist attacks or about 1 murder for every 81,000 asylum seekers let in.

Questions: What is Trump's motivation for being so anti-immigrant, whether legal or not? He launched into his anti-Mexican diatribe a few minutes into his announcement that he was running for president, so it was obviously in the front of his mind. Is it a deep-seated commitment or is it because he understands in an almost feral way that it appeals to his base? Recent polls in Texas, for instance, show that among Republicans, immigration is the most important issue, with 31 percent putting at the top their list. By contrast, just 9 percent of Democrats and independents think it is the most important issue. (As Matt Welch reports, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in New Mexico, Mick Rich, is also using the caravan heavily in his ads.)

In the end, the underpinning of Trump's position may not matter. And while being so focused on fortifying the border may help him and the Republicans win a few races in November, his enthusiasm is actually making Americans more favorable toward immigration, with a record-high 75 percent of us (and 65 percent of Republicans) agreeing that immigration is a good thing.

Watch "This Border Patrol Agent Resigned After Changing His Mind About Immigration," produced by Reason's Zach Weissmueller: