The racist attack on migrants

The migrant caravan is made up of people fleeing violence and poverty created by US imperialism

US President Trump’s aggressive and racist attacks on the most recent caravan of migrants heading to the United States, shows the utter contempt that US imperialism has for the poor and the oppressed. In this latest case Trump simply concocted a stream of lies to generate hysteria over immigration that would attract votes to his Republican Party in the US Mid-Term elections. He failed; but despite the fact that Republicans lost the House of Representatives in the middle of a Republican president's first term for the first time since 1954, Trump’s racist attacks on immigrants will continue. Alvaro Michaels reports.

Migration to the imperialist states is fundamental to modern imperialism. US imperialism was founded upon it, and has expanded by manipulating it. Forcing workers and their families away from their homes is the key lever to provide a massive flow of fresh and cheap labourers to the US. Years of violence by the US military and their plundering local allies in Central America, preventing any successful regional economic development, continues as the method of clearing populations into the claws of US exploitation.

Migrant workers from Latin America were fewer than six million of the US population in 1960 (3.31%), mostly from Mexico. Then, as capital accumulation became more difficult, the guest worker programme was ended in 1964-5, and a new legal ‘first-come-first-served’ method introduced. Along with the imposition of dictatorships for 20 years across Latin America it stimulated unauthorised migration. There are now over 50 million Latin Americans in the US, of whom an astonishing 11.7 million are undocumented. The exploitation of this mass of insecure and constantly harassed workers – making up a large part of the US reserve army of labour – holds down the wages and conditions of all unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the US, to the benefit of its billionaires. Such labour comes from Mexi­co, Central America and the Cari­b­­bean. Skilled and unskilled lab­our comes from the South American countries.

Honduras and the ‘violent Northern Triangle’

Honduras is one of three countries, with El Salvador and Guatemala, which together are dubbed ‘the violent Northern Triangle’. The modern history of these countries is tragic. Subject to US violence since the late nineteenth century, neither El Salva­dor, nor Guatemala nor Honduras have been able to develop. By 2015 some 3.4 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras had moved to the United States, compared to an estimated 1.5 million in 2000. About 55% of them were undocumented.

The US dominates the political scene. In Honduras, the US dollar became the joint currency in 2001 and 46% of its exports go to the US, which supplies 35% of its imports. 68% of Honduras’ nine million people live in poverty. In 2009 the reforming Presi-dent Zelaya was overthrown in a coup backed by President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Subsequently, the country has deteriorated dramatically in every way. It is a major drug route to the US. In 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, at 88 per 100,000 persons and now it is still 42 per 100,000.

Central America is most vulnerable to extreme weather arising from climate change. In 1998 it was battered by Hurricane Mitch, which killed over 11,000 people, including 7,000 in Honduras. It was hit hard by drought from 2014 to mid-2016, and now again in 2018. In August, Honduras declared an emergency in its Dry Corridor where about 80% of maize and bean crops have been lost. Vulnerable families incur debt and sell off land. From 2000 to 2010 the number of Hondurans in the US rose from 218,000 to 633,000, leaving 9.27 million at home.

The attack on migrants

In 2000 returns and removals peaked at 1.85 million, falling to below half a million in 2015. The Bush administration adopted Op­era­tion Streamline in 2005, a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ deporting migrants who enter­ed illegally. Honduras, with El Salvador and Gua­te­mala, has been a key source of asylum seekers, but 78% of Honduran applicants were rejected between 2012 and 2017. In 2017, illegal border crossing arrests hit a 46-year low, and were down 25% from the previous year. President Obama organised the Central America Regional Security Initiative, spending over $1bn on the region’s legal system, narcotics and police, linked to the Alliance for Prosperity, which aimed to extend US capital in the region. Meanwhile, there was a rise in the number of unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. In September 2018 more than half of all people apprehended crossing the border illegally were children and families, up from 17% five years before. From 2011-2016, the US Border Patrol apprehended 178,825 unaccompanied minors from El Salva-dor, Honduras and Guatemala. They flee violence and insecurity. In 2016, with this increase, Obama ordered the rounding up and deportation of re-cently arrived migrants whose asylum claims had been denied, to frighten off others. None of these methods have reduced the flow of desperate migrants.

Several hundred children crossing the southern US border were held in custody after October 2017 following Trump’s executive order of January 2017 which directed funds to build a wall along the Mexican-US border and build facilities to hold undocumented immigrants. In April 2018, Trump’s Attorney General, the now dumped Jeff Sessions, announced a zero tolerance policy towards asylum seekers without a visa. Those who presented themselves to Border Con­trol were charged with criminal entry. Their children were placed in detention centres. By June 2018, the UN and even reactionary US evangelical Christian leaders had condemned the detention of thousands of children in makeshift shelters. The US is the only country in the world not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On 11 June 2018, Sessions ruled that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence should no longer generally qualify for asylum in the US

The Honduran march of 13 October

By September 2018 poor harvests caused by drought in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua threatened to leave more than two million people hungry. This tragedy, a function of global warming, is scarcely mentioned by the press covering the growing exodus. With failed crops, and alternative urban living severely disrupted by murderous gangs of criminals, there is a constant flight to a life elsewhere.

On 12 October 2018, after a month of planning, a group of about 160 Hondurans assembled at the bus station in San Pedro Sula, a town with the country's highest homicide rate of 137.5 murders per 100,000 . Previous caravans often petered out over the long and arduous 2,700 miles journey north; 200 of the 1,200 in a previous April group reached the California border. US President Trump then threatened to withdraw aid from Honduras and other countries that allowed passage. This time migrants assembled the day after US Vice-President Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salva­dor and Guate­mala to persuade their citizens to stay at home.

The plan was posted on Facebook and reported on TV. The group grew to 1,000. An organised march is harder for people traffickers and thieves to attack, and cheaper than paying people smugglers. Thousands more joined them as they marched. Two more caravans then formed and followed.

The marchers have usually slept on the streets or in makeshift camps, without clean water and sanitation. Food has been in short supply, but a growing solidarity by the towns they trudged through meant more shelter and food.

The Honduran president accused human rights activist Bartolo Fuentes and partner Dunia Montoya of organising the caravan politically, to embarrass him. Fuentes was detained at the border. In Honduras, hundreds march­ed in the capital Tegucigalpa in solidarity with their compatriots.

On 15 October Guatemalan officials backed down and the more than 1,500 Honduran migrants pushed across the border into Guatemala. On 17 October Trump, playing the caravan for all he was worth to win Mid-Term election votes, tweeted that this was a ‘Great Mid-Term issue for Republicans!’

As the caravan headed north Trump repeatedly condemned the people as criminals, drug dealers and even coming from the Middle East: ‘I ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the US military…’ close the border and so forth. Asylum seekers from Central America may apply for asylum either in Mexico or in the US. Those to Mexico have gone up more than 1,000% since 2013, mostly from the Northern Triangle. Some 950,000 Cen­tral Americans have been de­ported from Mexico in recent years.

The caravan, half of whom are girls and women, was 3,000 strong at the Mexican-Guatemalan border bridge on the night of 19 October. At first they were driven back by riot police with pepper spray. At the far end of the bridge over the Suchiate River, marchers hurled rocks and other objects at hundreds of riot pol­ice, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Some 900 swam or used makeshift rafts to cross the river to enter without papers. On 21 Octo­ber, a surging group of migrants, thousands bigger than the group that had waited on the bridge, pushed through the border gates, towards the US.

Motorists have been offering the migrants lifts, often in overloaded trucks. Police started stopping crowd­ed trucks and forcing people to get off. On 27 October, several thousand Central American migrants turned down a Mexican offer of benefits if they applied for refugee status. As the exodus north grew in numbers, inclu­ding from El Salvador, so President Trump threatened to send 15,000 soldiers to the border with Mexico, authorised to shoot.

On 2 November, the Veracruz governor announced that the state would provide 160 buses to transport the more than 5,000 refugees to Mexico City, or other destinations they wish for, as well as provide humanitarian aid, water, food, and social services to them.

By 5 November, after 1,000 miles, the caravan entered Mexico City to a warm welcome. The local government improvised a shelter to accommodate more than 5,000 migrants (1,700 migrants are under the age of 18, including 310 children under age five). 2,793 caravan members accep­ted the Mexican government’s offers for temporary work visas, health benefits and children’s school places.

Arriving at the border

The first 480 migrants arrived in buses at the US border (Tijuana), between 11 and 14 November. Officials opened a temporary shelter for 3,000 at the Benito Juarez sports complex, adding to 700 existing migrant shelters. About 300 local residents gathered by the migrants’ beach camp to demand they leave the posh Playas de Tijuana neighbourhood in laid-on buses for the shelter. By the 18 November, 1,300 migrants were crowded into shelters in Mexicali, 90 miles from Tijuana, as Mexican police blocked their buses from proceeding . Since 14 November, over 2,000 more migrants have arrived in Tijuana. The shelters were full as yet more arrived daily. US border officials process about 75 to 100 asylum claims a day, so it could be a month before new arrivals are even seen.

‘We came to work. I know I’m not getting asylum because they don’t give you asylum for hunger,’ said Carlos José Romero, 20, from Santa Rosa, in Honduras. ‘But us on the caravan would rather die fighting than sitting in Honduras waiting to starve or be killed. If they deport us we’ll come right back.’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267, December 2018/January 2019