We are anthropologists who work with migrants and refugees, many of whom are fleeing for their lives. And we want to set the record straight.
We conduct research with migrants in Central America, Mexico, the U.S., and around the world; some of us have walked with migrant caravans. We have been working with these populations—our confidants, research partners, and friends—for several decades.
Migrants from Central America and Mexico have long faced systematic racism and discrimination from U.S. administrations, from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
However, we find the Trump administration’s rhetoric about the current migrant caravan particularly dangerous and blatantly false. We want to correct five lies the administration has promoted about people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.
- There are not any “terrorists” on the caravan.
Both Donald Trump and Mike Pence have publicly stated that there are “Middle Easterners” and “terrorists” in the migrant caravan. These claims are not merely false—which would imply some amount of good faith—but are, rather, patently absurd and racist.
There is no evidence of terrorists on this caravan nor any other, and equating Middle Easterners with “terrorists” is dangerous and politically-motivated racism. And if there were a family fleeing violence in Syria alongside a family from Honduras, why should it matter?
These lies obscure actual solidarity happening on the ground, including the many Mexican and Guatemalan people who have fed and sheltered migrants along their route. We encourage the U.S. public and politicians to respond to the people fleeing persecution and violence with compassion and care.
- Migrant caravans are not new and they are not “organized by Democrats to hurt Republicans.”
Though caravans have been made into boogiemen by the Trump administration and some US media outlets, in Latin America the word “caravana” connotes something closer to a group of pilgrims walking together for spiritual well-being and bodily safety.
Migrant caravans have been occurring in Latin America for over a decade—during the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. In fact, there are fewer caravans today than in the past. Caravans are not partisan and they are not funded by the Democrats. The current caravan was organized by a small group of Hondurans by social media and word of mouth with no outside institutional or professional support. In fact, caravans only gained recognition in the United States after the Trump administration began vilifying them.
For years, the Mexican government has deported migrants, especially children, without due process, and has willfully ignored the murder and disappearance of thousands of Central American migrants. Caravans allow people to make their suffering and humanity visible. It is by joining together that they gain the safety and recognition necessary to expose human rights abuses.
- The government of Honduras is not “funding” the migrant caravan.
Migrant caravans have been organized by priests and migrants themselves, but there has never been a caravan organized by Honduras, Mexico, or any other government.
In fact, in 2009, the U.S. Department of State supported a military coup that overthrew Honduras’ democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. The country’s public sector—including education and healthcare—has been decimated by the regimes that followed. Honduras has become increasingly unstable with gangs and paramilitary organizations violently wrestling for control. Thousands have been displaced, and prominent activists like Berta Caceres have been murdered for speaking out.
The Trump administration’s conspiratorial claims that the caravan is organized by shadowy government actors are patently false. To the contrary, Honduras attempted to close its borders to prevent its citizens from leaving, in direct violation of international law.
It is specifically due to the impacts of the U.S.-supported coup and massive electoral fraud that individuals and families organized this caravan in Honduras, running for their lives.
- The US does not already spend money on humanitarian aid in Central America.
Almost all aid money sent to Central America is through the Alliance for Prosperity, which the Obama administration joined in 2015, especially to deter Central Americans from fleeing their homes. Many of us have joined Central American people in speaking out against the Alliance because the vast majority of money has funded privatization programs and military contractors, often from the United States.
Predictably, instead of prosperity, this militarization only resulted in greater violence for Central American people. Forces ostensibly trained and armed to fight gangs and government corruption splintered into well-organized militias. Rather than benefitting Central Americans in need, U.S. aid has helped make their countries unlivable.
- It is not possible for the migrant caravan to “go back to their countries and apply for citizenship.”
No one can apply for citizenship outside the United States. While there may be mechanisms to apply for other forms of legal relief, migrants must already be inside the U.S. to apply for both citizenship and asylum. Even then, the asylum process usually takes years and often subjects asylum applicants to detention and intense surveillance. Though all of this is frequently reported, it appears to be wholly ignored by the Trump administration. In fact, the U.S. spends over $100 million a year on the Southern Border Plan, which pays Mexico to catch and deport Central Americans. Such externalized borders set a disturbing and dangerous precedent that risks violating human rights and breaking international law.
We stand firmly against U.S. efforts to prevent Central Americans from exercising their human right to seek safety and refuge. The fact that Donald Trump has declared that he will not allow the migrant caravan to apply for asylum and that he will send U.S. troops to prevent them from doing so goes directly against international law, which guarantees that anyone being targeted for persecution and violence in their home country has the right to seek protection in another country.
Such a position is not only inhumane, but also a denial of a well-documented history of U.S. intervention in Central America, through overt colonialism, corporate exploitation, and military intervention. This history of U.S. intervention has led to the conditions forcing individuals and families to flee today.
The people walking in the migrant caravan are seeking protection from violence and persecution, like so many others throughout history. They are not our enemies. They are human beings like us. They are our neighbors who deserve our protection and welcome.
Signatories listed in alphabetical order:
Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR)
Deborah A. Boehm
Ronda L. Brulotte
Jennifer L. Burrell
Fernando Montero Castrillo
Alex E. Chavez
Jason De Leon
Timothy D. Dye
Elizabeth Velasquez Estrada
Susana Vargas Evaristo
Dolores Figueroa de Ciesas
Christina Marisa Getrich
Roberto J. González
Linda B. Green
Edmund ‘Ted’ Hamann
Julia Meredith Hess
Seth M. Holmes
Lisa Maya Knauer
Roger N. Lancaster
William D. Lopez
Miriam Magaña Lopez
Saira Akhtar Mehmood
Caroline M. Melly
Lina B. Palomo
Ranmalee A. Perera
Gina M. Perez
Ana Y Ramos-Zayas
Jonathan Daniel Rosa
Maria Teresa Sierra
Max J. Stein
Candice Lowe Swift
M Gabriela Torres
Marisa Ruiz Trejo
Wendy Alexandra Vogt
Amy J. Ward
K. Eva Weiss
Tamar Diana Wilson
*As one of the authors of this piece, the Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR) would like to share that there will be an Executive Roundtable at the AAA Annual Meeting titled “Anthropologists Adapting to Anti-Immigrant Climates: Resistance and Resilience on Campuses and in Communities” (Session 5-0045), from 8:00-9:45 a.m. on Saturday, November 17, in the San Jose Convention Center MR 211 A on the Concourse Level. AANIR seeks to harness the knowledge, skills, and political platforms of anthropologists to support and advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees on our campuses and in our communities. AANIR invites anthropologists to join in related efforts and to visit the network website.