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What to Know About the Migrant Caravan (Beyond Trump’s Lies)

The president has pushed an absurd collection of smears to denigrate the caravan of migrants seeking asylum in America

US President Donald J. Trump greets the crowd before speaking at a campaign rally for Republicans in Mesa, Arizona, Oct. 19 2018.

President Trump greets the crowd before speaking at a campaign rally for Republicans in Mesa, Arizona, October 19th, 2018.

RICK D'ELIA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As a caravan of thousands of Latin American migrants makes its way north, President Trump has giddily seized at the opportunity to reintroduce immigration to the top of the news cycle. He dusted off all the usual talking points last week. America’s immigration laws are “horrendous” and need to be changed, he tweeted, adding that Democrats want “Open Borders” so that “MANY CRIMINALS” can pour into the United States. He threatened to close the border entirely, call on the military to intervene and cut off financial aid to the Latin American nations where the caravan originated. “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” he wrote on Wednesday.

The assault continued Monday morning, this time with a dash of Middle Eastern xenophobia as the president criticized the Mexican government for failing to stop the caravan, which crossed into Mexico last Friday. “Must change laws!” Trump stressed once again.

When asked on Monday by ABC’s Jonathan Karl whether he had evidence that Middle Easterners were in the caravan, Trump told Karl to figure it out himself. “You know what you should do, Jon? Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search,” the president said.

Though Republicans have been in control of both Congress and the Senate for the entirety of Trump’s time in office, efforts to pass immigration reform have failed, largely due to the president’s inability to effectively work with lawmakers. But, as with just about every issue plaguing his administration, Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats, both for what he calls “outdated” immigration laws and, now, absurdly, for the existence of the caravan. While speaking to supporters in Montana on Thursday, Trump implied that left is paying migrants to get into the United States in time to vote in the midterms, a conspiracy theory that has been easily debunked. “A lot of money’s been passing through people to come up and try to get to the border by election day, because they think that’s a negative for us,” Trump said. Earlier that day, he tweeted that the “assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” is being “led” by Democrats.

He hammered Democrats on Monday, as well. “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!” Trump tweeted. “Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally.”

A few minutes later, Trump announced that he will be following through on his threat to cut off aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a petty move that will almost certainly make the situation worse.

“We give them foreign aid, and they did nothing for us. They did nothing for us,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “We give them tremendous amounts of money … hundreds of millions of dollars. They, like a lot of others, do nothing for our country.”

Though this isn’t the first caravan of migrants to make its way to the border since Trump took office, it is the largest, and has elicited the most strident response from the president. The midterms are barely two week away, and immigration has long been a tentpole of the president’s appeal. With the border wall still lacking funding and the migrant crisis on the rise since he took office, Trump is doing everything he can to project strength. Unfortunately, Trump’s idea of projecting strength is denigrating the oppressed. As he did when he first announced his candidacy back in the summer of 2015, the president has cast migrants fleeing untenable conditions in their home countries as unruly criminals set on ravaging the United States as they mooch off the government. While speaking in Nevada on Saturday, Trump even alleged that Democrats wanted to outfit illegal immigrants with luxury vehicles. “They want to give them cars, they want to give them driver’s licenses,” he said. “I said last night … What kind of car will they supply them? Will it be a Rolls Royce?”

At the same rally in Nevada, Trump falsely claimed that riots had broken out in California over sanctuary cities. A day later, gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom corrected the president while redirecting attention to the fact the Trump administration has still yet to reunite all of the children separated from their parents at the border. Though Trump decried family separation this summer, once again blaming the issue on the Democrats, he admitted earlier this month that it is an effective deterrent. “If they feel there will be separation, they don’t come,” he told reporters at the White House.

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement refuting Trump’s myriad claims about the Democrats’ immigration policy. “The president is desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about and that Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Republicans in Washington are making a mess of our health care system, causing premiums to increase and care to decrease while threatening to gut protections for pre-existing conditions. Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted.”

Trump has been open about how his renewed focus on immigration could help Republicans next month. He may be right. Television programs have given the caravan wall-to-wall coverage, and polling has shown not only that immigration is a concern for conservatives, but that Trump’s talking points may be sticking. As the New York Times points out, a survey conducted in August by Grinnell College found that 52 percent of Republicans falsely believe that undocumented immigrants commit more violent crimes than the general population. Meanwhile, a Fox News poll found that 54 percent of likely voters support the Affordable Care Act, the dismantling of which had been another tentpole of Trump’s campaign.

Lying about immigration isn’t the only Hail Mary Trump has lofted in the face of a potential Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate. The president has recently taken to telling reporters he will pass a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class before election day. Unfortunately, Congress will not convene again until later in November.

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