HOUSTON – (March 6, 2023) – Both punitive and permissive immigration policies have done little to deter migrants from crossing the U.S. border, and media coverage of “migrant caravans” has contributed to stopgap policies, according to a new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
The paper reviews the implications of at least 30 migrant caravans from when they first appeared in 2017 to 2022 to determine what policies and factors were in place when the caravans mobilized. The authors found that policies driven by “political posturing” did not appear to have had an impact on the number of migrants choosing to leave their home countries each year.
“The current situation on the U.S.-Mexico border demonstrates that walls, fences, barricades, bridges, patrols, technology and laws do not deter illegal entries,” wrote authors Gary Hale, nonresident fellow in drug policy and Mexico studies, and Jie Ma, research assistant.
“Media coverage of the ‘border crisis’ – including reports of individual crossings and so-called ‘caravans’ moving through Mexico – has added to the perception that there is no end in sight to the swell of migrants at the southern border,” they continued.
Framing caravan migration as an invasion intensifies knee-jerk policies that create stopgap measures, Hale argues. Caravan migration is not intended as a way to invade a nation by force – the formation is conducted merely as a way of safely moving large groups of people over long distances. The worst effect of caravans has been to overwhelm border control agencies as well as relief and support agencies, he explains.
Caravans also represent only a small portion of the overall total number of migrants traveling across Mexico. However, the movement of these people have impacted immigration policy-making because of the optics and the media coverage these caravans receive, the authors argue.
“Caravans attract a lot of attention; the public shock of seeing people walking for hundreds of miles barefoot, carrying babies and strollers without food, creates a huge social impact on both sides of the border,” the authors wrote.
Migrants should be seen as victims of circumstance, exploited by transnational criminal
organizations, and not as criminals who have violated the law by entering the U.S. between ports of entry, the authors argue. Addressing regional instability and improving the asylum system are two of the ways Hale and Ma recommend reducing illegal migration.
“Political views tend to drive U.S. federal immigration policy instead of supporting the enactment of laws that provide common sense approaches and solutions,” the authors wrote. “Frequent changes in elected bodies lead to frequent changes of policy, to reflect the currently prevailing social view. Continuity of government policy in general, and regarding immigration specifically, is sorely lacking. This must change if the problem is to be fully addressed.”