A caravan is a company of travelers on a journey through desert or hostile regions. – Merriam-Webster
Looking at Merriam-Webster’s definition, a caravan doesn’t sound like much of a threat. But that’s what political rhetoric would have us believe about the caravan of poor, frightened people making their way on foot through Mexico toward hoped-for safety in the United States.
I think about another caravan. The Gospel writer Matthew tells of a journey by the Holy Family from Judea to Egypt. It would have been too dangerous for a small family traveling alone. Joseph would have secured a place in a caravan, perhaps a company of traders hoping to cash in on Egyptian markets.
In the same way it makes perfect sense for thousands from failing Central American countries, wishing to escape hunger, violence, and joblessness, to travel together. Singly they would be prey to brigands. There’s safety in numbers.
Pre-election caravan politics and the real danger
How odd, then, that politicians should take a word that represents safety and use it to set a tone of fear as elections draw near! But that is what is happening. We are meant to be afraid of a caravan and vote accordingly. We’re supposed to believe, without evidence, that there are gang members and “very bad people” hiding in this “invasion” of refugees.
Facts don’t seem to matter. For example, the fact that for 10 years the number of people seeking entrance to the United States has been declining. Or that the process which this and similar caravans use to gain asylum in this country is perfectly legal. Instead our President warns,
This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!
Actually, according to an article in America Magazine, officials say the military will be providing services for the border patrol. It is not expected to engage directly with migrants. I don’t know if that remains the case with Trump’s threat to send up to 15,000 troops. But it makes a good pre-election ploy to paint a picture of soldiers itching for a battle against the invaders.
The real danger to our country doesn’t come from south of the border. That image of invaders featured prominently in the thinking of Robert Bowers, and the one who gave us that image bears some responsibility for what that deranged individual did. Shortly before opening fire on worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, he expressed his hatred for The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Violence, deteriorating economies, and a better response
Writing for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic service agencies, Bishop Joe S.Vásquez says,
… we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. (quoted from America Magazine, October 29)
to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. This is based on biblical and ancient Christian teaching that the goods of the earth belong to all people. (“Welcoming the Stranger among Us”)
President Trump’s response is to threaten cuts in aid to Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, where most of the refugees originate. Mexico is showing us a more Christian response.
First, Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador proposes doing something positive. United States, Canada, and Mexico should work together toward developing the economies of Central America and southern Mexico.
Then the people of the southern Mexican town of Niltepec show us what real compassion looks like. They are still recovering from an earthquake in 2017 that damaged or destroyed almost all of the city’s 1720 homes. Even so they have welcomed tired and hungry migrants, offering what they could – tamales, homemade soup, diapers, and water. It’s almost as if they are instructing their rich northern neighbor in Christian and human decency.
Taking note of the piles of rubble that once were the town’s homes, Ziltepec’s mayor said,
We wish we had a space dignified enough to offer our visitors. (from The Guardian, Oct. 30)
Not just charity, justice
Add to this call for compassion and charity another call for justice. America Magazine references past U.S. involvement in Central America:
Over the decades U.S. policy in Central America has contributed to the region’s current economic, civic and political instability. Many argue its current support of a revived authoritarianism in Honduras has contributed to the urgency of migration out of that Central American state.
Climate change also is behind much of the Central American troubles. Formerly farmers could rely in rains for their crops in due season. Because of a warming planet weather, as we’ve seen even in my state of Minnesota, has become erratic. In Central America new waves of cycling droughts and flooding cause food insecurity and make it impossible for farmers to stay on their lands. All of us bear some responsibility for that.
President Trump theory seems to be that vitriolic and violent rhetoric will drive his base to the polls. I hope to find next Tuesday that it drives people who believe in compassion and justice as well.
Image credit: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images, via Google Images