THE ELECTION EVE CARAVAN

With US elections less than two weeks away, another caravan of migrants is on the move from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras across Mexico toward the US. It’s the latest version of a story we’ve talked about before—the politics of migration at the southern US border.


President Trump says he’s unhappy with the Mexican government for allowing these migrants to pass through Mexico unobstructed. He has threatened to cut aid both to the Central American countries the migrants have abandoned as well as to Mexico for allowing them through. Trump claims some of the migrants are “unknown Middle Easterners” and has warned that once they reach the border, the US military will be there to keep them out.

As we did six months ago, let’s look at this story from three angles.

The Migrants: Once again, a determined group of desperate people is moving toward the US border where they hope to apply for asylum in the United States. Some want to escape an epidemic of criminal violence that forces children into gangs with threats of death for themselves and their families. Others are fleeing poverty. Many feel they have little to lose and a brighter future to gain.

Mexico: Mexican voters elected a new president in July, and though Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) won’t take office until December, the people now listen to his views on the migrant question. Outgoing president Enrique Pena Nieto never settled on a clear response to previous caravans. Some migrants were deported; others were allowed to remain in Mexico.

AMLO risks the same muddled political message. He campaigned on promises to treat migrants with dignity and has pledged to offer more work visas to allow some Central American migrants to remain in Mexico. But he has also acknowledged that Mexico can’t simply welcome everyone that walks across its border illegally, and he knows he can’t ignore Trump’s economic threats.

Donald Trump: In less than two weeks, US voters head to the polls for midterm elections that will determine whether Donald Trump’s Republican Party can keep its congressional majorities. For him and his party, the migrant caravan is a political gift. Trump has no reason to expect votes for his party in 2018 or his re-election in 2020 from Democrats or political moderates. For Trump, as for Democrats, the key to victory is firing up loyal backers to ensure they actually vote. Immigration is an issue Republican voters care deeply about. On their TV channels and websites, Democrats see migrants depicted as desperate families with children making the hopeful journey toward a better life. Conservative media confronts Republican voters with images of riotous young men climbing fences and ignoring laws. Both sets of images simplify a complex reality.

In the final days before Americans vote, Democrats will try to focus voters on health care and other “pocketbook issues.” Trump, who continues to frame this vote as a straight-up referendum on his presidency, will continue to talk about the caravan at rallies, on TV, and on Twitter.

And the migrants will continue to make their way north.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.