As the Migrant Caravan arrived at the US border, they were met with heavy tear gas and rubber bullets in a show of inhumane violence, John Clarke reports
When I wrote my previous article on the Migrant Caravan, it was clear that this ‘elemental act of survival by those who face intolerable conditions’ posed a challenge to Donald Trump. Behind his false and blustering claims about criminal gangs and terrorist cells, lay the simple reality that ‘US imperialism’s longstanding oppression and exploitation of Central America’ had sown the seeds for the Caravan and a larger exodus of impoverished and desperate people. Trump, the monstrous embodiment of colonial arrogance and deep-seated racism, could not allow this movement to succeed. At that time, he had already dispatched 5,000 troops to the Mexican border and unleashed a torrent of hateful threats.
Over the last few days, the massive forces of state repression at the disposal of the US President have acted with shocking brutality. On November 25, hundreds of Central Americans pushed aside Mexican guards and headed for the US side at San Diego, chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers!” US border guards unleashed tear gas on the crowd, that included many children. One Honduran woman, holding her three year old daughter in her arms, explained that, “We ran, but when you run, the gas asphyxiates you more.” Five hundred of the asylum seekers were rounded up by Mexican police and forty two who made it to US territory were arrested there.
US officials had no apologies to offer for their vicious attack. Trump himself, has responded with his customary falsehoods and invective. It is worth noting that, under international and US federal law, had these people made it to the border and presented themselves as asylum seekers, they would have had a legal right to have their claims heard before they could be deported. Yet Trump asserted that he was repelling ‘stone cold criminals’ and vowed to permanently close the border with Mexico if necessary. Without a shred of evidence, he suggested that those approaching the border were ‘grabbers’ and not the parents of the children accompanying them. Ever the buffoon, he assured the world that his border guards were using ‘very safe’ tear gas against these families.
Outrage and solidarity
The response to Trump’s brutality and its questionable legality from senior Democrats is certainly tinged with hypocrisy. Tom Perez, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, tweeted that,
“Shooting tear gas at children is not who we are as Americans.”
With this absurd comment, he passes over the role of Democratic Administrations in creating the conditions that have led to this desperate situation and ignores the fact that Presidents aligned with his Party have dropped napalm on children. However, we may treat more seriously the intervention by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She took the Trump Administration to task by suggesting that,
“Asking to be considered a refugee and applying for status isn’t a crime. It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany. It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda. It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria. And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America.”
There has also been a level of mobilisation in support of the asylum seekers. A "March of Solidarity with the Refugee Caravan" drew out hundreds in San Diego. The event's Facebook page explained,
"Trump is creating a war-like situation at the border and ramping up hate and fear against our brothers, sisters and siblings in exodus from poverty and violence in Central America. It is critical that we demonstrate the mass sentiment in support for migrants and refugees, and demand the recognition of their legal right to seek asylum,"
The shocking events of the last few days at the US Mexican border have not brought the crisis to an end. This particular gathering of those seeking refuge is very much between a rock and a hard place. They have very few options if they return and their grim determination and readiness to risk all is an explosive factor. More than this, however, they are but a small part of a Central American refugee crisis that, far from abating, can only get worse. Whatever the immediate outcome of the present situation, the movement of desperate people will continue, the frenzied efforts to deny them entry will intensify and the need to build movements of solidarity with their vital struggles will become ever more pressing and indispensable.
John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.