Can dramatic news pictures of thousands of Central American immigrants marching through Mexico in order to storm the southern border of the United States revive immigration as a cen-tral issue in the November 6 midterm elections? Democrat strategists certainly hope so.
Storming border fences, wading rivers and trudging along southern Mexico’s main north-south highway, the ragtag mob estimated to number up to 7,000 men, women and children over-whelmed weak efforts by Mexican authorities to detain them there and declared that nothing will stop them from joining the millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
As the liberal mainstream media portrayed their trek as a heroic flight from the lawless vio-lence in their native countries of Honduras and Guatemala, President Trump condemned the migrant caravan as an “assault on our country at our southern border,” and promised to send troops to the Mexican border to turn the mob back. In a series of tweets and speeches at GOP campaign rallies, Trump renewed the signature promise of his 2016 to build a wall along the Mexican border to protect American citizens from the influx of criminals, gang members and drug smugglers, whom Trump views as a serious threat to law and order as well as national se-curity.
While spending a day touring Arizona, Trump said that the caravan had been organized by “bad” people and had “bad” people in it. He added, “A fairly big percentage of those people are criminals. It’s not happening on my watch. . . These are not little angels coming into our coun-try. . . These are tough, tough people, and I don’t want them, and neither does our country.” He also declared that the immigration problem was the “Democrats’ fault for weak laws . . . Dem-ocrats believe our country should be a giant sanctuary city for criminal aliens.”
“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 wrote in a tweet on Monday. “Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE
Immigration has been a very divisive issue for Republican lawmakers for a long time. A com-promise Senate immigration reform bill supported by President George W. Bush in 2007 died for lack of conservative GOP support, and subsequent efforts to remedy the problem with legis-lation have suffered a similar fate. Republican conservatives have always been fearful of a re-peat of the fiasco during the Reagan administration, when Congress declared an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens already in the country, in return for a promise of much stricter en-forcement at the border which was never carried out.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump made building the wall on the Mexican border to stop smuggling and illegal immigration a rallying cry for his campaign. But he also ex-pressed some sympathy for the plight 1.8 million so-called “Dreamers” – young undocumented immigrants who entered this country as children, and who were eligible to seek protection from deportation under President Obama’s DACA executive order.
This past January, after cancelling Obama’s legally problematic DACA order, President Trump made an immigration proposal which shocked many conservative Republicans. He offered to provide amnesty for all of the Dreamers, in return for Democrat support for building Trump’s wall at the Mexican border, eliminating the visa lottery, and restricting chain immigration. The Democrats rejected the offer, leaving the situation at the Mexican border in chaos, and the im-migration status of the Dreamers still mired in a legal limbo.
Returning to the immigration issue last week, Trump said in a series of tweets, “If the Demo-crats would stop being obstructionists and come together, we could write up and agree to new immigration laws in less than one hour.” He accused Democrats of causing “needless pain and suffering” while pointing to “horrors taking place on the border.”
“Chuck and Nancy, call me!” Trump wrote.
REACHING A COMPROMISE WOULD NOT BE EASY
But a compromise that both sides could accept would not be so easy to reach because voters are polarized along party lines when it comes to their views on illegal immigration. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of Republican voters view illegal immigra-tion as a very big problem, while just 19 percent of Democrat voters say they feel the same way. At the same time, 57 percent of Democrats believe that illegal immigrants are being treat-ed unfairly in this country, compared to just 15 percent of Republicans.
The US-Mexican border remains porous, a tempting target for drug smugglers, traffickers and leftist activists who illegally profit from organizing these caravans. The Central American mi-grants, attracted by false promises of a better future and ultimately amnesty once they arrive in the US, are being used as pawns. Some don’t survive the perilous journey, while others find themselves trapped in involuntary servitude to the human traffickers.
THE LONG MARCH TO THE BORDER
The current caravan started on October 12 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 200 people, and quickly grew as word was spread through social media and leftist politicians, based on claims that some members of a much smaller caravan organized earlier this year got through and are now living in the US. The caravan reached the Mexico-Guatemala border last Wednesday at the town of Tecun Uman. Their path was blocked by a small number of police guarding a border fence that the mob easily pushed through, leading them to the border itself, which is the half-mile-wide Suchiate River.
On the first day at the river border crossing, about 20 people were injured when they tried to storm the bridge and the gate on the Mexican side, prompting the Mexican police to lob tear gas to force them back.
By the next morning, the white iron gate had been reinforced. Luis Manuel López, Mexico’s ambassador to Guatemala, told the people waiting on the other side of the gate that immigra-tion officials at the bridge would start processing asylum applications in small batches that would allow them to stay in Mexico. The migrants were assigned numbers and told to wait their turns. Those who were approved received 45-day visitor permits. They were then bused to an open-air, metal-roof fairground in Tapachula, where the Red Cross had set up showers and small tents on the concrete floor.
Mexico’s Interior Department said it received 640 asylum requests by Honduran citizens at the border crossing and released photos of migrants getting off the buses and receiving food and medical attention in the shelter.
CROSSING THE RIVER
But many more members of the caravan were unwilling to wait their turn at the bridge or de-cided they did not want to stay in Mexico. Instead, they took their chances by crossing the river and continuing their journey to the US border.
In order to enter Mexico, the more fit migrants swam across the muddy river, but most used rickety rafts made out of huge rubber inner tubes offered by local smugglers, who charged $1.25 for each passenger they ferried across. Police were blockading the bridge and could see hundreds of them crossing, but made no move to arrest them when they reached the Mexican shore. Other members of the caravan made the crossing at night to avoid the risk that Mexican police might change their policy and start arresting them to prevent them reaching the US bor-der, in response to pressure from Trump.
At the same time, about 2,700 Guatemalans and Hondurans accepted repatriation offers from their governments and boarded buses to bring them back home. Honduran President Juan Or-lando Hernandez said his country’s citizens had been manipulated into going on a dangerous journey by false promises by the caravan’s organizers. “For political reasons, the despair of human beings is used to gain advantage,” he said.
In recent years, only a small portion of the illegal aliens crossing the US southern border origi-nate in Mexico because of the improving economic conditions there. In the summer of 2014, there was a sharp spike in illegal family migration from Central America, including large num-bers of unaccompanied children, creating a humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border. The situation prompted the reinforcement of border enforcement efforts by both the US and Mexi-co, more intensive prosecution of human smugglers and other criminals who preyed on the mi-grants, as well as a public education initiative in Central America to discourage parents from trying to send their children to the United States.
WHO IS BEHIND THE CARAVANS?
In addition to the human traffickers, a number of liberal pro-open border organizations have been supporting the illegal caravans and recruiting participants. The current migrant caravan was organized by a Mexican-based group called Pueblos sin Fronteras (People Without Fron-tiers). In operation since 2008, it claims its mission “is to build solidarity bridges among peo-ples and turn down border walls imposed by greed.” Its website claims it has active “commit-tees” in Tijuana, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. A smaller migrant caravan the same group organized earlier this year raised tensions between the US and Mexico until local authorities stepped in to disband it before it could get close to the American border.
The group assigned 25-year-old social activist and law student David Lopez to serve as the cur-rent caravan’s legal advisor and logistical organizer. When informed of President Trump’s threat to send US troops to close the border with Mexico, Lopez responded defiantly, “If Trump wants to militarize the frontier, he is welcome to do so!”
After crossing the river into Mexico, members of the caravan gathered at a park in Ciudad Hi-dalgo, and agreed by a show of hands to continue their march towards the US border, 1300 miles to the north. The next morning, they set out together on the highway north to the next city of Tapachula, 19 miles away, where, according to Lopez, they plan to set up camp and rest for a few days before continuing their journey.
The caravan members marched on through southern Mexico, shouting triumphant slogans like “Si se pudo!” or “Yes, we could!”
As they passed through Mexican villages on the outskirts of Ciudad Hidalgo, they drew ap-plause, cheers and donations of food and clothing from Mexicans.
Local resident Maria Teresa Orellana handed out free sandals to the migrants as they passed. “It’s solidarity,” she said. “They’re our brothers.”
Olivin Castellanos, 58, a truck driver and mason from Villanueva, Honduras, who took a raft across the river after Mexico blocked the bridge, declared, “No one will stop us, only G-d. We knocked down the door and we continue walking.” He said he wants to reach the US in order to work. “I can do this,” he said, pointing to the asphalt under his feet. “I’ve made highways.”
At least Castellanos was honest about his economic motives for wanting to enter the US. Most are counseled by immigration lawyers working for liberal open border groups to tell US offi-cials that they left their homes because they feared violence or political retribution, which are the only legal ways to qualify for asylum in the US.
TRUMP THREATENS FOREIGN AID CUTS
On Monday, President Trump vowed to cut off or reduce aid to three Latin American nations, as the caravan of migrants made its way toward the US-Mexico border.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the US,” Trump said in a tweet. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.”
It was not clear what payments Trump was alluding to or the extent to which he could act with-out congressional approval. Later, in an exchange with reporters before leaving Washington for a rally in Texas, Trump again mentioned the three countries and that the US gives them “tre-mendous amounts of money” for nothing.”
“Every year, we give them foreign aid,” Trump said. “And they did nothing for us. Nothing.”
Asked about his claim that the caravan includes “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” Trump told reporters to go look for themselves.
“Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search, OK?” Trump said. “You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety.”
In the fiscal year just ended, US aid to Guatemala totaled $83.7 million, to Honduras $58.3 mil-lion and to El Salvador $50.7 million. All were sharply lower than in the previous years. In the fiscal year that just began, planned foreign spending for Guatemala is $69.4 million, for Hon-duras $65.7 million and for El Salvador $45.7 million.
ANOTHER SECRET GEORGE SOROS PROJECT?
The presence of a seasoned guide and spokesman for the caravans raises the question of who is putting up the money to organize the operation and that person’s motives. Writing in the Amer-ican Spectator, conservative columnist Robert Stacy McCain suggests that the timing of the caravan to coincide with the peak of the midterm campaign “is probably not a coincidence.” On the contrary, his “cynical hunch is that the latest ‘refugee’ crisis has been manufactured by the Left as an election-year propaganda effort.”
More specifically, McCain suspects that international currency speculator and multi-billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundations is ultimately paying professional agitators like Lopez to organize the allegedly spontaneous grassroots movements such as the Honduran cara-van to advance the liberal agenda. In addition to publicly acknowledged large contributions to Super PACs which supported the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Soros has been identified as a major funder of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and the MoveOn.org liberal group.
In an interview with Fox News, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas said he sus-pects that Soros was funding the caravan and expressed his support for President Trump’s de-clared intention to use the US military to prevent the “invasion” of US borders.
In the current campaign cycle, Soros funds the American Bridge 21st Century Super PAC, which describes itself as a “progressive research and communications organization committed to holding Republicans accountable for their words and actions.” One of the Super PAC’s em-ployees, Wilfred Michael Stark, was arrested last week by Las Vegas city marshals for assault-ing Kristin Davison, female campaign manager for Nevada GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt. His Democrat opponent in the race, Steve Sisolak, and the state Democrat party organi-zation denounced the attack and denied that Stark had any association with them.
Laxalt’s spokesman Parker Briden later stated, “This mob behavior from the left is out of con-trol. Encouraging violence, as many prominent Democrats like former Attorney General Eric Holder have recently done, is having real, dangerous consequences.”
A statement issued the next day by the American Bridge 21st Century super PAC noted that “one of our employees was involved in an incident with a member of Adam Laxalt’s campaign in Nevada. In response to that incident, we have decided to relieve this employee of his duties with American Bridge effective immediately.” The statement did not mention Stark by name or explicitly condemn his violent physical attack.
DEMOCRATS WORRIED ABOUT THEIR BLUE WAVE
Meanwhile, as the caravan drama was unfolding, Democrats were experiencing an uncomforta-ble feeling of déjà vu, due to a growing fear that overconfidence may be leading them to a re-peat of their nightmare electoral defeat in 2016.
For months, Democrats had been predicting that a “blue wave” of highly motivated anti-Trump voters would sweep away the narrow 23-vote GOP majority in the House, enabling them to block President Trump’s legislative initiatives during the last two years of his term in office. Democrats had hoped that the “blue wave” would enable them to overcome the disadvantages they face in this year’s senatorial electoral map and give them at least a fighting chance to wrest majority control of the Senate from the Republicans as well.
But since losing the bitter Kavanaugh confirmation fight, Democrats have suffered a reversal of fortune in national polls. Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are reaching the high point for his presidency, while several endangered GOP senatorial candidates have pulled even or slight-ly ahead of their Democrat opponents.
With two weeks to go before Election Day, the latest projections of the outcome in the House indicate that Democrats are likely to emerge with only the narrowest of majorities, if they do win. Of course, it doesn’t make a difference how large their majority is – they will still control the House and all of its committees, should they win.
Public opinion also appears to be turning against the mob attacks on Trump supporters that have been openly encouraged and organized by national leaders of the Democrat party, includ-ing Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former Obama attorney general Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton. Those uncivil tactics were on vivid display during the nasty fight over Brett Ka-vanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
Since then, Trump has been able to effectively put down his critics simply by holding their ac-tions up to public scrutiny. “The Democrats have become an angry, unhinged mob, determined to get power by any means necessary. Vote for the jobs, not for the mobs. Just do it,” Trump has been telling his supporters at rallies for GOP candidates across the country.
A KAVANAUGH, CARAVAN MIDTERM ELECTION
At a GOP event in Montana, Trump told his cheering supporters, “This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense. … Remember, it’s going to be an election of the caravan.”
At a stop in Elko, Nevada, Trump said, “The Democrats don’t care that a flood of illegal immi-gration will bankrupt our nation,” and warned that a Democrat victory in the midterms “would be a bright, flashing invitation to every human trafficker, drug trafficker.”
Democrat leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi responded by try-ing to steer the campaign conversation back to their preferred topic, protecting Obamacare. They issued a joint statement saying that Trump is “desperate” to change the subject from health care to immigration because voters oppose GOP policies on health care. “Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted,” they insisted.
“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,” they added.
But Trump will not be deterred. He knows from his experience in the 2016 campaign that, aside from putting conservative judges on the US Supreme Court, the issue which galvanizes the GOP voter base the most is illegal immigration. Some analysts have warned Trump that reviv-ing the immigration issue could alienate some independent voters. But Trump prefers to trust his own political instincts. He is treating the caravan of immigrants moving toward the south-ern border as a tool to motivate his voters base to sufficiently to overcome the “blue wave” and defeat the Democrats again.
Many Democrats are now hoping that the thin lead in published polls on the race to take over the House will hold out until Election Day, and that they won’t lose more than one or two seats to expand the GOP majority in the Senate.
The closeness of several key midterm races has prompted a late surge in Democrat political spending.
DEMOCRATS FEAR A LATINO ENTHUSIASM GAP
Democrat strategists are particularly concerned over a lack of enthusiasm for their candidates among Hispanics, who are the fastest growing segment of the national voter population. The large number of Hispanic voters in states like Nevada, Arizona and Texas, is expected to pro-vide the swing vote in several close races. Democrats had been counting on a strong Latino re-action against President Trump’s immigration policies. But recent interviews with dozens of Hispanic voters by the New York Times reveal a growing indifference instead.
Democrats have been successfully exploiting the immigration issue to win support among Lati-no voters for many years. But once they gained power, Democrats have consistently put immi-gration reform on the legislative back burner, preferring to use their clout to pass Obamacare and expand entitlement programs instead. Democrats have consistently delayed any serious ef-fort to fix the broken US immigration system so that they could use it against the GOP in the next election cycle.
Over the years, Hispanic voters have become increasingly frustrated with Democrat candidates who have exploited the issue but done nothing to fix it. As a result, Hispanic voters in Nevada and California told the Times that “they felt disempowered rather than emboldened; they ex-pressed feelings of cynicism, apathy and fear,” and that they “have simply lost faith that politi-cians will follow through on their promises once the elections are over.”
An analysis written by Sally Persons of RealClearPolitics confirmed that Republican candi-dates in this election cycle do not seem to be suffering in the eyes of Hispanic voters due to Donald Trump’s immigration policies, including the wall he is intent on building along the Mexican border.
In Texas, for example, Governor Greg Abbot holds a four-point lead, 49-45, among Latino vot-ers against his Hispanic challenger, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. In addition, in-cumbent GOP Senator Ted Cruz, who ran for president in 2016 on immigration policies that were just as tough as Donald Trump’s, is running only nine points behind his Democrat chal-lenger Beto O’Rourke among Latino voters, even though O’Rourke, an Anglo, so closely identi-fies with Hispanics that he has abandoned the use of his English first name, which is Robert. His campaign and the media refer to him as Beto.
In the Florida US Senate race, GOP Governor Rick Scott is leading his Democrat opponent, in-cumbent Senator Bill Nelson, among Hispanic voters of both Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, even though 57 percent of the Puerto Rican voters identify themselves as Democrats.
HISPANICS DON’T WANT TO BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED
This is particularly upsetting for Democrat strategists who have long taken the national Hispan-ic vote for granted. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump attracted 28 percent of the Hispanic vote, slighter better than Mitt Romney did, despite Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric. Latino leaders say that if Republicans were to make a more conscious effort to appeal to Hispanic vot-ers, they could easily match the 40 percent of that vote that George W. Bush won in the 2004 election. That would create a major problem for Democrat strategies in future national elec-tions.
Even without changing his immigration policies, since taking office, Trump has been making major gains among Hispanic voters. A Harvard/Harris poll released in June found that Latino approval for Trump has jumped by 10 points.
More than 29 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in this midterm election, four million more than in 2014, but many of them have told pollsters they may not bother going to the polls. The liberal-leaning Latino Decisions survey found this summer that 67 percent of Hispanics said they favored Democrats but only 44 percent said they were “certain” they would vote Democrat, and only 53 percent said they intended to cast a vote at all. Young Latino voters are particularly alienated from the voting process. Only 16 percent of them bothered to turn out in the 2014 midterm election.
Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, sympathizes with their anger. “Latino voters have been neglected by politicians for a very long time, so if candidates want to earn their vote they need to work twice as hard to convince them that they are worth voting for,” he said.
THE LATINO VOTE IS STILL UP FOR GRABS
Democrat and Republican strategists admit that, just two weeks before the midterm election, many Latino voters are still up for grabs. A recent survey conducted by the National Associa-tion of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials finds that 55 percent of Latino registered voters have not yet been contacted and asked for their vote by either side in the midterm campaign.
As a result of widespread Hispanic disappointment with the Democrats, their candidates are having a harder time than expected in districts with large populations of Latino voters. For ex-ample, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, Robby Mook, told the New York Times, “This has been a major structural problem for us for some time, and if we had fixed it by now, Texas would be a lot more competitive.”
In heavily Democrat California, party activists are concerned that if too many Latino voters stay home on Election Day, their candidates could lose in up to half-a-dozen closely competi-tive congressional races across the state. A change in the outcome in that many races could de-termine whether Democrats or Republicans emerge in control of the House of Representatives for the next two years.
Arizona Republican strategist Stan Barnes says Democrats are making a mistake by appealing to Hispanic primarily on the immigration issue. “The Latino vote is not monolithic and does not vote in unison,” he says, and adds that he has heard some Hispanics express support for Trump because of the success of his economic policies.
Despite these encouraging trends for Republicans, Democrats are still strongly favored by most pollsters to eke out at least a small majority in the House of Representatives, while the Repub-licans will most likely retain, and perhaps add to their slim majority in the Senate. However, these are the same pollsters who in the 2016 presidential election predicted that Trump had ab-solutely no chance to win.
The Washington Post contributed to this article