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Americans Who Fear the Migrant Caravan Don't Meet Very Many Immigrants

New research finds that residents of the Southeast, Midwest, and Mountain Northwest are more likely to view the caravan as a threat than their counterparts in the Northeast and Southwest—where immigrants make up a larger share of the local population.
Honduran migrants take part in a caravan toward the United States in Chiquimula, Guatemala, on October 17th, 2018.

Honduran migrants take part in a caravan toward the United States in Chiquimula, Guatemala, on October 17th, 2018.

As thousands of migrants await processing by United States immigration authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border, new research suggests Americans who interact with more immigrants are less likely to fear them.

A study published this week by researchers at Monmouth University finds that residents of the Southeast, Midwest, and Mountain Northwest "are more likely to view the caravan as a major threat" than their counterparts in the Northeast and Southwest, where immigrants make up a larger share of the local population.

"One of things we've found that's really interesting here is that when we have states with high levels of immigration—a significant number of immigrants in the populations—those are the areas where people feel less threatened by immigration," says Patrick Murray, the founding director of the university's Polling Institute.

Of the 802 U.S. adults interviewed, 29 percent said that the migrant caravan poses a major threat to the U.S., 24 percent saw it as a minor threat, and 39 percent saw it as no threat. The responses were largely divided along party lines. Among Democrats, only 11 percent viewed the caravan as a major threat, compared to 54 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Independents.

One in four of the people surveyed said they were "fairly certain" about President Donald Trump's suggestion of terrorists traveling with the caravan (he tweeted that they were "unknown Middle Easterners," in an instance of more overt racism). Trump himself admitted that his claim had been baseless.

Monmouth's data may offer some clues as to whether the administration's hyper focus on immigration helped or hurt it during mid-term election campaigning. While it's clear that Trump's hand-wringing over the caravan and immigrants more broadly rally his core base, Murray observes that his research calls into question whether it's effective at spurring a broader public. "There isn't a clear picture hereabout where people stand," he says. "If your concern is winning over one portion of the public, one set of policies will work for you. That's what the president did. In areas with high immigrant populations, border states and others, people are less likely to see that as a problem."

Still, a majority of Americans (70 percent) believe the migrants should be allowed to enter the country if they can prove a need for asylum and that they have no criminal record, Murray's study says.

On Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked Trump's November 9th executive order barring asylum seekers altogether. Meanwhile, around 3,000 migrants and counting, mostly from Central America, have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico, and U.S. authorities are processing about 100 asylum petitions each day, reports say.

Since the Trump administration assumed power, Tijuana has seen a surge in its existing migrant population, traditionally received with relative compassion by Tijuana residents and a number of civil society organizations and shelters that offer migrants services. Many of the new migrants—thousands of which are from faraway Haiti—arrived at the border attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. before the Trump administration's enactment of the anti-immigrant policies that Trump had promised on the campaign trail.

Others arrived there after being deported from the U.S. Recent figures from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse show that, in the 2018 fiscal year, the Trump administration's immigration enforcement started the largest number of deportation proceedings on record, with 287,741 cases opened. The majority of those cases were against people of Mexican origin.

Analysts believe that Trump administration policies are actually causing the violence at the U.S.-Mexico borders that he has so frequently attributed to migrants. A surge in migrants has apparently fueled the activity of the warring cartels that has driven unrest in the region. Human traffickers frequently operate within the broader framework of the cartels. The more migrants there are in cities like Tijuana, the more cartels seem to prey on them.

"U.S. immigration policy is making Mexico less safe—the border and the migration routes in particular," Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a policy professor at George Mason University who recently conducted ground research at the border, told Pacific Standard last month. The migrants themselves are most often not, as Trump has suggested, criminals, but they are frequently drawn by circumstance into a net of organized crime. Their choices are limited. "Either you pay [the cartels] the fee to continue onward or to stay in the city, or you get killed, or you go somewhere else," Correa-Cabrera said.

In recent months, Tijuana has seen a sharp increase in violent crimes as a result of wars between cartels. In July, there was a record 12 homicides a day in Tijuana, according to the local investigative outlet Zeta Tijuana.

Correa-Cabrera warned that the outlook for security there is grim—not because of the migrants themselves, but because of the U.S. immigration policies that drive so many of them to border towns already grappling with security concerns.