Migrant caravan reveals larger truths about immigration

The story of the Central American caravan trekking through Mexico can help provide context by revealing larger truths about immigration.

In absolute terms, no country in the world takes in as many immigrants as the United States. That's a fact to remember when critics in the human-rights community and across Latin America blister our country for its immigration policies.

I may sound like an immigration opponent saying that. But I believe Latin American immigration has richly rewarded the U.S. with great families, people and workers. I want more. Not less.

No opponent of Latin American immigration will say that.

But I also want to see greater understanding for the issues that confront host nations as more and more migrants show up en masse on their borders.

The story of the Central American caravan, its trek north through Mexico and its clash with U.S. law enforcement can help provide context by revealing larger truths about immigration.

Mexico has a big border problem

As caravans move through Mexico, they meet the same kind of resistance and hostility illegal immigrants have faced in the United States. In this country, that’s too casually called racism. In Mexico, it’s harder to argue that.

More likely, both countries are expressing another universal quality of human beings everywhere — fear and suspicion of the outsider.

Mexican protesters in places like Tijuana are carrying placards that read "invasion." They oppose 5,000-plus migrants who have staged near the U.S.-Mexico border to try to get into the United States. They want them out. Deported.

In mid-November, about 300 Mexican protesters in Tijuana converged angrily on a migrant center there, The Wall Street Journal reported. The protesters were carrying Mexican flags and chanting something you could imagine hearing in the United States: 

 "No more caravans! Our poor come first!"

Mexicans no doubt resent Central Americans who several weeks ago overran their country’s southern border and who, by their sheer numbers, are putting stress on Mexican cities. 

Tijuana’s mayor said that the onslaught of people has created a "humanitarian crisis," and that his city's taxpayers will not be footing the bill for all these migrants. 

For all its faults, the U.S. still shines

Poor Hondurans who crossed Central America's border with Mexico spoke with their feet. Their dangerous thousand-mile journey vertically through Mexico revealed their longing for the economic and physical security of the United States.

Many of them now are willing to endure the squalid conditions of makeshift shelter in Tijuana, because given the choice of living in another Latin American nation, one that more closely shares their language and culture, they instead choose to live in America.

Think of that.

President Donald Trump's America is the better alternative to Mexico. I point that out only so you'll remember it the next time one of America's critics in this country enumerates our nation’s faults — our  "xenophobia," our "implicit bias," our "microaggressions."

Remember that the refugee in Honduras who needs sanctuary now from the gangs and grinding poverty chooses our faraway nation over the many alternatives south of the Rio Grande.

Mexico's threat to caravan migrants

Mexico is not always kind to immigrants. As the latest caravan moved north through the country, even leaders in that country acknowledged that the refugees are not likely safe if they stay for any extended period on the south side of the U.S. border. 

Human rights activists told The Washington Post that Mexico's border states, teeming with drug cartels, are too dangerous for migrants in the long term. "Several Mexican officials" told The Post the same thing. 

I’m not a critic of Mexico. I love Mexican culture and people. I think Arizona’s shared border with that country is a great asset and a promising source of future prosperity. 

I want those Honduran migrants who are truly refugees to gain entry into the United States and to build a life here. But I also want to see the larger immigrant community and its supporters give the United States a little more credit for continuing to be a beacon for people in despair.

Sometimes those folks are so focused on our faults, they never see our virtues.

Phil Boas is editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @boas_phil.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Migrant caravan reveals larger truths about immigration