The winding caravan of more than 7,000 migrants from Central America through Mexico has become such a political hot potato that it is likely to thrust the immigration issue to the forefront of the U.S. mid-term elections, barely two weeks away. Already, President Donald Trump, who has not been shy about translating his conservative views on immigration into harsh policy measures, has fuelled fears that the caravan may harbour terrorists from West Asia; he has also attacked Mexico for not stopping the “onslaught”. This, besides the usual sloganeering around “illegal immigration” that will purportedly steal American jobs and threaten the security of an otherwise peaceful American society. In truth, most members of this caravan, not by any means the first of its kind but certainly one of the largest in recent history, are either economic migrants seeking escape from grinding poverty in places like Honduras or fleeing persecution, trafficking or gang violence in the region. Unlike previous such caravans, whose members numbered in the hundreds and which dissipated along the way or upon reaching the border, this one has gathered momentum from sheer media attention and support from advocacy groups. It is not going away any time soon. This puts candidates from both the major parties in the U.S. in a tricky position. Democrats are wary of committing too much political currency to the caravan or undocumented migration as a phenomenon, given the prevailing mood in the country. And the Republican mainstream harbours concerns about the strident anti-immigrant rhetoric against the caravan, and what it stands for, emboldening far-right groups associated with racism and Islamophobia.
At the heart of the shrill debate on immigration is the weight of history. Americans can never get away from the fact that they are and will probably always be a nation of immigrants. As President, Barack Obama took a hard line on undocumented worker deportations, whose number soared through his two terms in office. But he sought to toe a moderate line when it came to delaying the deportation of childhood arrivals, and policed borders with a relatively light touch. Mr. Trump, contrarily, has made every effort to deliver on his radical campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., although he faced numerous legal setbacks in that mission, and then made even immigration hawks squirm over his decision to separate undocumented child migrants from their families. Ultimately #CaravanaMigrante will seek to cross that line in the sand which Mr. Trump and his supporters hope will one day become a high wall. Liberal-progressive Americans who hope that these asylum-seekers will not be rudely rebuffed at that point will have to regroup and focus their energies on the November campaign and use any newfound power they win in Congress to chip away at the immigration agenda of the Trump machine.