As thousands of Central American migrants make their way through Mexico and towards the U.S. border, Donald Trump has seized the opportunity to ramp up his rhetoric on illegal immigration.
The so-called ‘caravan’ is comprised of around 7,000 people, mostly from Honduras, and El Salvador and Guatemala, many of whom are fleeing economic hardship and criminal gangs in their homelands.
The caravan is trekking on foot from the Guatemalan border, and is expected to take weeks to reach the southern-most U.S. border checkpoint in Texas - a journey of around 2,000kms.
Donald Trump’s reaction has been typically aggressive, and his critics are accusing him of using the caravan as a political tool, ahead of the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th.
The President has declared the situation a 'national emergency', vowed to close the U.S. border with Mexico, and said he will "begin cutting off" foreign aid to Central America.
He has also made a number of seemingly unverified claims about those travelling with the caravan, in what critics say is an attempt to stoke fears over immigration among Republican voters.
In a Tweet posted on Monday, President Trump wrote: “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States.
“Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergency. Must change laws!”
No reports from the caravan so far suggest that any of the migrants are Middle Eastern, and government statistics show that last year only 0.7% of all people apprehended at the U.S. border were from Africa or the Middle East.
When challenged on the claim at the White House yesterday, Trump himself was unable to verify the claims, admitting: ”There’s no proof of anything”.
At a rally in Arizona on Friday, the President also asserted that the migrants within the caravan are “bad people” and “not little angels”.
Trump has not provided any evidence for his claims of criminal behaviour, and in fact many migrants say they are fleeing from gang violence, with some fearing for their lives.
He has also repeatedly claimed that his rival Democrats are funding the caravan, in the hope that it will reflect badly on Trump’s administration.
Speaking at a rally last Thursday, Trump said: “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by election day, because they think that’s a negative for us.
“They have lousy policy. They wanted that caravan, and there are those that say that caravan didn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen.”
There is no evidence that Democrats or party donors are financing the caravan for political gain - but with the midterms fast-approaching, how to deal with the influx of migrants heading towards the U.S. will likely be a key issue for both sides.