HUIXTLA, Chiapas, Mexico — I’ve seen the ignorant, xenophobic rants on social media about the caravan. They’re terrorists in disguise. They’re criminals. They’re invaders. They’ve been sent to invade and destabilize the United States. But in the main square of this small town in southern Mexico recently, all I could hear of the caravan were the childrens cries, and their laughter. Their faces tired, surprised, innocent, anxious are the best evidence against these claims by racist politicians and their supporters, propagating hatred.
According to a United Nations estimate, there are about 2,000 children in the caravan of perhaps 7,000 Central American migrants trying to make their way to the U.S. border with Mexico; the exact number is impossible to determine. Here in the state of Chiapas, I saw an 8-month-old girl and a 4-month-old boy lying under a black plastic screen, shielding them from the unrelenting sun. I saw children running around in diapers, restless, shoeless, sweating and playing with anything they could find, totally oblivious to what awaits them.
Terrorists wouldn’t be carrying their children across entire countries. Terrorists wouldn’t be pushing strollers in their slippers or their worn-out shoes, traveling over 1,000 miles in temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, trying to reach Texas or California.
Some are suggesting that the migrants are being paid, or that the caravan is being financed by the billionaire George Soros, or the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. But I didn’t see any money anywhere. The Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans I met didn’t have a single dollar on them, even to buy a bottle of water. (Here’s some video I recorded when I was walking with the caravan: bit.ly/2O2Lg0d)
As I mentioned, I’ve read some terribly classist and racist remarks posted on social media about these Central Americans. The comments are similar to the ones I’ve heard directed toward Mexicans in the United States. But on the streets of Tapachula, I didn’t see hatred or suspicion; I saw generosity and solidarity. The migrants were offered food, clothing, shoes and, of course, water. Most importantly, the Mexicans were trying to cheer them up, so they could carry on. How great you are, Tapachula. Your embrace has breathed life into so many.
This attitude is completely at odds with that of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who became a Border Patrol agent for President Donald Trump when he closed a bridge connecting Guatemala and Mexico recently, in an attempt to turn around the caravan. The refugees crossed the Suchiate River from below, instead. In the end, Trump and Peña Nieto were foiled. (You can watch the video I made at the Suchiate River here: bit.ly/2SieSKy).
Trump’s next strategy, intended to instill fear in American voters just before the midterm elections, is to declare these migrants an imminent threat to national security. He claims, without evidence, that there are Middle Easterners hiding in the group, and insists that the people in the caravan are invaders. I spent two days with the caravan and didn’t see a single Middle Easterner. And let me tell you this: The caravan is certainly not an invasion.
Many people don’t understand how or why this group of Central Americans gathered. It wasn’t some nefarious strategy. People simply heard about it on TV or saw it on their phones. Besides, the odds of being robbed or sexually assaulted decrease if you are part of such a large group. Its also a matter of money. A smuggler might charge $4,000 to $10,000 to bring a single Central American to the United States. These trekkers, the poorest among the poor, didn’t have to pay anyone.
I dont know how, or if, these children will make it to the U.S. border. Theyre exhausted. Their parents are pushing them along in their strollers, or carrying them on their shoulders, but theyre exhausted too, struggling forward in the heat.
Sooner or later some of these refugees will reach the border. But please do not let Trump deceive you. They arent coming to invade. The most powerful nation in the world has an obligation when the weakest and the neediest show up on its doorstep. I have never seen anyone as vulnerable as these children.
They are not the enemy.
P.S.: You can see some of my photographs of the children in the caravan here: bit.ly/2JipwwT.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision.