Migration and the Migrant Caravan

Much has been written, screamed and shouted about the “migrant caravan” during the last month or so, most of it overly simplistic to serve the agenda of any given speaker. As so often happens with an active migration, there are many agendas at play.

old wagon with people in it
Caravans are nothing new

First, we were told of the violence at the Guatemala-Mexico border. Some of that involved Guatemalan insurgents/rebels following their own agenda. That whole Central American region has problems with various guerrilla groups, gangs, etc. — the reason many of these folks are leaving in the first place. Their governments barely control the urban areas; rural areas are run by the strongest and most ruthless. The Mexican government itself is thinly represented on the southern border, not dissimilar to the cartel-run areas close to our border. The actual migrants are fleeing violence, not trying to cause it.

Then there are the numbers: 10,000, 20,000, 7000. Every day they go up and down, seemingly dependent upon the viewpoint of the person stating the numbers. The U.S. military early on estimated about 5,000 might actually make it, and that appears to be pretty close as the group moves northward. Most will drop out (or already have) in cities and villages on the way. And while there might be a road to follow, that’s some rough desert and mountain country they have to cross, especially north of Mexico City. Mexico has offered assistance to any who choose to stay there, and many have.

One thing that the rhetoric has totally misconstrued: gang members in particular, and criminals in general, aren’t going to be trying to cross with these folks. They already have their tunnels, and coyote guides, and well-worn paths in the back country that have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years before anyone drew a line in the dirt and called it a border. Some guy getting deported for the 5th time isn’t crossing at an official gate. That leaves ordinary people looking for a place they can live and work without worrying about feeding their children or being enslaved by the local “freedom” fighters. Those are the people our National Guard will be meeting at the border.

When I was managing a motel in Raton, NM, there was a mining crew doing reclamation work in the Sugarite (old coal mining area). One guy was an illegal and had been deported 3 times as such (no other crime). He would literally take a few weeks or months to vacation at home, then cross back over on foot through the New Mexico “heel” to go back to work. He would have preferred working with a green card, but when he first started, didn’t have the money or connections for someone to sponsor him. And once deported the first time, that’s it. He chanced it because he had family to support and no job prospects back home.

Migrations in general are fascinating. Rome fell, I would argue, not so much because of Attila and the Huns as because of its own degenerate self-destruction, led by a series of free-spending tyrants. But Rome is a bit unique, in that while it imposed Roman law wherever it went, it did not always insist on full assimilation. The Euro-centric view we have inherited tends to equate migration with domination. Think of the Mongols who wiped out whole populations, as did many of the colonist of Britain, Spain, Portugal and others while they carved out their empires. (And the American experience, of course.) That makes it easy to prey on people’s fears. Yet the ferocious Vikings often assimilated into the cultures and peoples they conquered, as in Russia and the British Isles.

But migration does not equal violence. Recent archaeological discoveries in South America and Europe (and possibly upper Mississippi) point toward some early cooperative interactions between cultures versus warlike ones. So, maybe the Mongol, Viking and European empirical models aren’t the rule.

man walking through sand dunes
Choose your journey wisely

Tammany Hall aside, the waves of Italian, Irish, Polish, and Scandinavian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century were rather peaceful. This despite fears they wouldn’t become “real” Americans. (Guess why the Pledge of Allegiance was written.) So were the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and S.E. Asian waves before, during and after the various 20th century wars.

As a species, we are migratory — sometimes driven by climate, sometimes by population growth, sometimes by politics, sometimes for the sheer thrill of adventure. The difference now is you can’t just “go west”. Yet we will migrate. Rising sea levels guarantee it. Fear-mongering for whatever purpose only serves to isolate and divide when cooperation is most needed. The question becomes what’s mine, what’s yours, and what’s ours? And can we share?

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