BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
It’s not every week that a protest creates an international incident, but here we are.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon is now preparing options after President Trump signed a proclamation directing the National Guard to be deployed to the US-Mexican border.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The move to mobilize came after several days of tweaks in which the president focused his rage on a group of Central American migrants who had gathered to travel through Mexico. Many are seeking asylum there, some are planning to seek asylum in the United States and a few are planning to cross the border illegally.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Now, the caravan, which is over a thousand people coming in from Honduras, thought they were gonna just walk right through Mexico and right through the border.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Thursday after five days of tweeting about it, Trump said the caravan was largely broken up.
CARRIE KAHN: No, it’s not.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Carrie Kahn is NPR’s correspondent for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
CARRIE KAHN: I spent all day Wednesday with them and there are hundreds of men, women and a lot of children, many sick now, if I can add that, in this park. It’s a recreational field with soccer fields and a couple of, you know, swing sets and stuff, in this small town of southern Oaxaca State. And they’re still there and they’re a united front and they’re gonna continue traveling north. Just how far north together this group will travel is very much unclear and in flux.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the group’s still together.
Earlier this week, the president said that Mexico was not doing enough. On Thursday, he declared that Mexico's government was in control, its strong immigration laws -- better than ours, he said -- had stalled the caravan.
CARRIE KAHN: No, the strong Mexican migration laws did not break it up either. Mexico does not have strong migration laws. It has porous borders, underfunded resources, and they’re unable to deal with this group of migrants too because every year tens of thousands of Central Americans trek through Mexico on their way to the US border.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, Trump also returned to a theme of his campaign, that immigrants from the South prominently featured rapists.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened, everybody said, oh, he was so tough. And I used the word “rape.” And yesterday it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.
CARRIE KAHN: Migrant-on-migrant crime, no. And this group is incredibly united to stay together as a group and to provide safety for a lot of the women and the children that are traveling alone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Trump also was demonstrably wrong in depicting the so-called “caravan” as somehow unusual, a threat to national security.
CARRIE KAHN: Well, first of all, the word “caravan” is, is sort of a misnomer, and I think that the word that they used to describe this is, is -- I’m having, I had a hard time to translate it and find a proper translation. It’s called “via crucis.”
[MAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH, CROWD CHEERS/APPLAUSE]
CARRIE KAHN: And it’s sort of a religious pilgrimage, hinted sort of way, and I think in the translation it sounds like everybody’s in these cars, when you think of caravan. No, it’s not. It’s just a group of people that have come together. Mexico has a long tradition of pilgrimages and long marches.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This particular caravan started in Tapachula, Mexico, just across the river from Guatemala, where many migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador wait in shelters to make the journey north.
CARRIE KAHN: It wasn't that they all came en masse from Central America. I think that's very important to point out. And they’re traveling on their own. They get to Tapachula, Mexico, the caravan organizers say, hey, come with us, let’s all travel in a big group. And people want to do that. I heard from people, especially the women traveling on their own with children, that they feel safer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There are many so-called “caravans” in Mexico, some lasting only a few hours. Their purpose is twofold. First, there's safety in numbers, safety from gang violence and robbery and safety from immigration officers and corrupt government officials. But it's also a form of activism, making those who are invisible visible.
[SOUND OF PEOPLE CHANTING]
One of the best-known caravans is an annual 4,000-kilometer trip by a group of mothers whose migrant sons and daughters have disappeared. Alberto Xicotencatl is the director of Migrant House, a shelter in Saltillo in northern Mexico.
[XICOTENCATL SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
INTERPRETER FOR ALBERTO XICOTENCATL: They show photos of their disappeared children. They meet with officials and they demand a search for the disappeared and protections for migrants because if there were protections, their children wouldn’t have disappeared. They wouldn't have had to move around in the shadows, hiding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Xicotencatl says that Migrant House doesn't organize these group journeys because they can't guarantee the travelers’ safety. But Pueblo Sin Fronteras, People Without Borders, who organized this week’s trek, has done several. Alex Mensing is a project coordinator.
ALEX MENSING: Last year, Pueblo Sin Fronteras helped coordinated two caravans in which asylum-seekers traveled all the way from the southern Mexico border to the northern Mexico border, when they presented themselves at an official port of entry, turned themselves in to US immigration authorities and requested asylum.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how did this particular caravan come to the attention of Trump? The path is as well-worn as the Stations of the Cross. First, BuzzFeed ran a story with the unfortunate headline, “A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Dares To Stop Them.” Breitbart and then other right-wing sites soon picked it up. Then, as usual, it got to Fox & Friends. Mensing says it was probably the BuzzFeed headline that hooked them.
ALEX MENSING: Yeah. I do think that the way the headline of the BuzzFeed article, the first one that came out, was written galvanized the right more than it galvanized the left.
We talked about this small, this group of migrants, 1200, marching to America and the BuzzFeed reporter that’s going along with them reporting on it. And they’re marching to the US border ‘cause they want in and they want to make a statement with a reporter touting what they're doing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And less than an hour later.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump on an anti-immigrant rant on Easter Sunday, much of it on Twitter.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Here are the tweets. “Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border… Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tucker Carlson, meanwhile, took the opportunity to express disapproval at an activist who blamed US policy for the event.
[FOX NRWS CLIP]:
ENRIQUE MORALES: The US should be more welcoming, and there are 20 countries much more welcoming than the United States.
TUCKER CARLSON: Oh, so our sins, our sins are the reason this is — so you hate America is what you’re saying.
ENRIQUE MORALES: A very big part, a very big part of that is due to the US sins.
TUCKER CARLSON: And I don’t know what -- actually, it’s interesting. You’re blaming America for illegal immigration into America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The coverage and rhetoric have gotten so intense that even Brandon Darby who covers immigration for Breitbart tweeted, quote, “I’m seeing a lot of right-wing media cover this as ‘people coming illegally’ or as ‘illegal aliens.’ That is incorrect. They are coming to a port of entry and requesting refugee status. That is legal.” And he elaborated on Breitbart News Tonight with a pointed, if peculiar, simile.
BRANDON DARBY: The organizers of this group are actually pulling something similar to what Dr. Kevorkian did. This is something that happens all the time, just like assisted suicide, you know, when it comes to overdosing people on mor -- giving them too much morphine and they slowly pass away. This happened all the time but then came Dr. Kevorkian and put it in everyone’s face and then all of a sudden there’s legislation and people looking at the issue. And so, this, this group, People Without Borders, is actually doing a favor to the right. They’re shooting themselves in the foot because it’s something that happens all the time and by highlighting it as they’re doing it, it’s only gonna highlight the need for congressional action on this issue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This caravan was much larger than the organizers were expecting and they can’t continue on the route as planned, but if the goal was to shine a light on what migrants are experiencing and the conditions in Honduras forcing them to flee, then Mensing considers the news coverage a win.
NPR’s Carrie Kahn says that if that was the goal, the media, in large part, haven't done their part.
CARRIE KAHN: The vast number of those people in that group are suffering from incredible levels of violence and incredible levels of just a difficult situation in their countries that we have not really talked about much in the press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She said she stopped to talk to a woman sitting by a stream.
CARRIE KAHN: She was actually [LAUGHS] putting on makeup, trying to make the best of a terrible situation.
She was with her two daughters, one’s 15 and one’s 11. They live in Honduras. And her daughter was -- the 15-year-old was kidnapped by gang members for two days and gang raped. This happened four months ago and her daughter is just traumatized. And then when she tried to do something about it, she was confronted by the gang and threatened with her life, and she didn't know what to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She says she'll probably try and seek asylum in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Mensing and other organizers have gotten death threats, and he thinks it's because of the hysterical coverage generated north of the border. Now they're rethinking future projects.
ALEX MENSING: It’s definitely a factor in deciding to not try to do a large public event at the border, even if that large public event, as there were last year, is designed to highlight a completely legal access to asylum.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Alberto Xicotencatl of Shelter House in Saltillo says that the caravan story has already sparked more violence against migrants in the north.
[XICOTENCATL SPEKAING IN SPANISH]
INTERPRETER FOR ALBERTO XICOTENCATL: Between yesterday and today, we have received men and women that have been beaten by immigration officials who were trying to detain them. They have bloody head wounds. This had not happened like this until the international incident of the president of the United States making claims that in Mexico there was no detention.
[XICOTENCATL CONTINUES IN SPANISH]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As for the migrants in the caravan further south, the Mexican government has given many of them 20- and 30-day permits to travel around the country without deportation. Against the backdrop of Mexico's presidential campaign, this has been a tense episode for officials. NPR's Carrie Kahn.
CARRIE KAHN: I do think that the spotlight that President Trump put on this group provoked the Mexican government to work as fast as they did because to get these visas or these travel permits, 20- to 30-day permits, is very difficult. But they came to this big group of people and issued them within a day or two, which is amazing. I had met some people that had been in Tapachula, Chiapas there at the border waiting for these permits for months, even years. We’ll have to see how many of those people actually try to ask for asylum, whether those pictures and images of hundreds and hundreds of people walking has swayed public opinion in the United States or lawmakers’ opinions. We’ll have to see on the negative side of that.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is a story spawned by an unfortunate headline and thoroughly misreported by Fox News, which famously has the president’s ear. It’s a textbook example of a case where facts were obscured by fantasy, where the usual is exaggerated beyond reckoning, putting the lives of people who are already terribly vulnerable at risk. It’s the kind of thing we’ve become accustomed to, and that may be the scariest thing about it.
Coming up, sex trafficking on the internet is a tragically difficult problem but, then again, so are the seemingly simple solutions.
KATE D'ADAMO: I think that what’s happened with these bills is really indicative of something bigger. It is where the people most impacted by this bill were written out of the conversation and became the collateral damage of good intentions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.