President Trump is historically disliked, and his Republican Party is running on a severely unpopular policy record.
With the midterm elections barely a week away, Republicans are employing two strategies to combat these problems. First, they are telling baldfaced lies about their policy record. Second, they are whipping up witless panic, particularly over the group of refugees making its way up through Mexico to apply for asylum.
To begin, let's frankly describe what is going on. The caravan is a loose group of a few thousand people (it has shrunk down from about 7,000), mostly Hondurans but with some Guatemalans, fleeing apocalyptic violence and political instability. That region of Central America, especially Honduras, has been a blood-soaked nightmare hell for years. Murders have skyrocketed there due to constant gang violence, and job opportunities have evaporated. People will do almost anything to keep from being tortured, shot to death, or chopped to pieces and dissolved in acid.
That explains an unusual characteristic of the caravan: It is largely composed of families and young children. As compared to the more common single men looking for work, this group is about half women and girls. The basic logic for a caravan, as Dara Lind explains, is that the roughly 1,400-mile journey from Honduras to the United States is extremely dangerous. With people constantly being abducted or abused by various criminals, they decided to band together and make the trek out in the open together, for safety in numbers and visibility.
"Migrant caravan," the appellation which quickly became the standard media label, is badly misleading. These folks are refugees, a word that is both more accurate and connotes the perfectly legal action they are aiming to take: applying for asylum. Under U.S. law — a product of basic post-WWII treaties that built the United Nations process for dealing with international political instability — refugees are legally entitled to apply for asylum at the border. (It's a massive pain in the neck and many are denied unjustly, but simply applying is absolutely legal.)
One important implication is that this caravan doesn't represent some huge surge in people coming to the U.S. On the contrary, it's nothing more than a few weeks' worth of the typical refugee flows gathered together in one place. Nearly 300,000 people were apprehended crossing the border in 2017. A few thousand is just not that many. And while monthly apprehensions have increased substantially since early last year, it has only roughly matched 2016 levels, and remains far below 2014 levels.
From an American perspective, everything about this caravan should be small potatoes. America is a country of a 325 million people. There are about 43 million immigrants already living here. Far from being some devious criminal element, the immigrant population commits substantially less crime than the native-born average. A couple thousand refugees just is not going to change very much one way or another.
From the refugee perspective, of course, it is a matter of life and death. Most if not all of these folks are decent, ordinary people, again many of them innocent women and children, whose dearest hope is to not be mercilessly butchered by gangsters, and maybe a half-decent job at Home Depot if they're really lucky. So for a decent country — one which adhered to the words of Jesus Christ about what happens to people who do not care for strangers or the poor, for instance — it would be an absolutely trivial matter to help these unlucky souls. Indeed, if it weren't for Fox News and our addle-brained president contemptuously manipulating the media into giving this thundering wall-to-wall coverage, almost nobody would even notice. A few thousand Hondurans could disappear into existing such communities in El Paso, San Diego, and Washington, D.C., with nary a ripple.
Even if we wanted to stop the refugee flows, the quickest and easiest thing to do would be to reform our drug laws to deprive cartels of quick and easy profits, hand their beleaguered governments a few pennies of humanitarian aid, and perhaps reform our gun laws to crack down on rampant arms trafficking from the United States.
But the fact of the matter is that a massive media firestorm over a relative handful of bedraggled, desperate families is quite politically useful for the Republican Party. They don't want to talk about their policy record, and their base is quite easily whipped up into a terrified blind panic over anything having to do with brown people. After all, voters in The Villages stacking sandbags onto their Medicare scooters for fear of some Honduran child trying to illegally landscape their property are less likely to notice the Republican plot to take away their health insurance.