From Caravans to Cages: Why Trump Bashes Migrants

The migrant “caravan” is a distraction from the real crisis at the border: the Trump administration’s theft and abuse of children.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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If the media’s to be believed, the United States is about to be overrun by a horde of terrorists and criminals from Central America. And it’s not just Fox News or Breitbart that are partaking in this narrative; ABC News calls it the “caravan crisis” and the Associated Press ran a piece headlined, “A ragged, growing army of migrants resumes march toward US.” Contrary to Donald Trump’s claims and mainstream reporting, the migrants on this “caravan” are innocent men, women, and children; unarmed people; the most vulnerable of the vulnerable; people fleeing violence, persecution, and extreme poverty. To follow Trump’s lead and present these people as an “assault” on America, is irresponsible, dishonest, alarmist, and racist — and it’s a distraction from what has really been an immigration crisis at the border: the so-called “separation” of migrant children from their parents by the Trump administration. According to the latest official numbers from the Trump administration, which many believe to be a complete underestimate, there are still 66 children “separated” from their families and being held in detention centers. More than 12,000 children who arrived to the U.S. unaccompanied are also still detained. To discuss this story of theft, child abuse, and racism, Mehdi Hasan is joined by the legendary Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos.

Donald Trump: 
What’s happening right now as a large group of people — they call it a caravan — that is an assault on our country. I think the Democrats had something to do with it and now they’re saying “I think we made a big mistake.”

[musical interlude]

Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan. Welcome to Deconstructed. Another week, another so-called immigration crisis. The midterms are around the corner and the racists and nativists are out in force. I’ll speak to the legendary Mexican-American journalist and Trump’s bête noire, Jorge Ramos.

Jorge Ramos: I’ve been in this country for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We are normalizing racism. We are normalizing cruelty.

MH: So this week on Deconstructed: the migrants are coming!

Lou Dobbs: The caravan of Central American migrants continues to swell in numbers.

Pete Hegseth: An army of migrants is literally marching or riding or making their way from – is it from Honduras?

Abby Huntsman: Most all of them from Central America.

Shepard Smith: President Trump is calling the caravan a national emergency and he’s claiming criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in with the crowd.

DT: They could very well be.

Jim Acosta: But there’s no proof.

DT: There’s no proof of anything. There’s no proof of anything.

Stu Varney: The army of migrants is already assembling at our border. What are we going to do?

MH: If the media’s to be believed, the United States is about to be overrun by hordes of terrorists and criminals from Central America. And we’re not just talking about Fox News or Breitbart. We’re talking mainstream media organizations. ABC News calls it the ‘caravan crisis’.  The Associated Press, yeah AP, ran a piece headlined: “A ragged, growing army of migrants resumes march toward US”.

I mean, seriously? An army marching towards the US? What, to invade and occupy this poor, weak, defenseless, borderless country? Come on! This is a quote ‘caravan’ of innocent men, women and children, unarmed people, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable: refugees, asylum-seekers, people fleeing violence and persecution, and yes, extreme poverty too.

They come from countries, by the way, like Honduras, which the US helped destabilize in the first place by backing violent coups and turning a blind eye to state-sponsored violence and persecution. To follow Donald Trump’s lead and present these people as an “assault” on America, is irresponsible, dishonest, alarmist and racist. Even if all 7,000 people make it across the border, into the US and claim asylum, which is highly unlikely, that would only represent around 1% of all US asylum claims. 1%.

And yet two weeks away from the midterms, Trump and his racist cronies have succeeded in getting the “liberal media” to focus on this mythical threat from central America rather than, I don’t know, their ongoing attacks on healthcare and Medicaid, their regressive tax cuts, Trump’s own history of tax fraud, the murder cover-up in Saudi Arabia, the Russia investigation and of course the guy accused of sexual assault that they forced through onto the Supreme Court.

But this is why Trump won. Seriously. This is why Trump won. At every turn, at every juncture, in his journey to the Oval Office, and since he arrived in that office, a mainstream media that supposedly hates him, and that he supposedly hates, wittingly or unwittingly has helped him, boosted his message, echoed his lies, reinforced his racism, danced to his white nationalist tune.

DT: You know, they have a word – it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say “Really? We’re not supposed to use that word?” You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist.

MH: What’s so frustrating is that this bogus immigration crisis centered on this caravan distracts us from what really has been an immigration crisis at the border, a moral and political catastrophe at the border: the so-called separation of migrant kids from their parents by the Trump administration.

And the fact that it’s gone from your Twitter or Facebook feeds, that it no longer dominates the headlines on cable news, as it did in May and June of this year, doesn’t mean that the story, the scandal, the abuse, has gone away.

It hasn’t. According to the latest official numbers from the Trump administration, which many believe to be a complete underestimate, there are still 66 kids held in detention who were “separated” from their parents; one of those children is under the age of 5. In total, remember, more than two and a half thousand kids — kids — were torn apart from their parents by this administration. A lot of those parents, hundreds of them, have already been deported from this country.

Then there are the unaccompanied kids, who came to the US alone – there are more than 12,000 of them now being held in detention – 12,000! – that’s more than five times the number that were in custody 18 months ago and a record high. It’s barbaric. It’s a moral disgrace. It’s a crime. And it should be — in a normal world, it would be — a political catastrophe for the president that caused it.

And yet Trump carries on with his presidency as if all is fine with kids at the border; how often do you see journalists ask him that about that story? Ask him about the kids still in detention, rather than about mythical ISIS terrorists from Central America? On the contrary, a lot of the media coverage again helps Trump by referring to what’s been going on at the border as “family separation”. Separation! But it’s not just separation, it’s theft. Children were taken from their parents against their will, without their consent, sometimes without their knowledge. By the United States government. They were stolen.

“Oh, we’re taking your kid next door for a shower.” The kid never comes back.

“Oh, your son or daughter will be right here waiting for you when you get back from your court hearing.” They’re not.

A baby is torn from her mother’s breast whilst in the middle of feeding. That’s theft, plain and simple. And let’s not forget what has happened to some of these kids in detention. We’ve seen reports of kids who were assaulted, handcuffed to chairs, forced to drink toilet water, held down and injected with sedatives and anti-psychotics which left them unable to walk. So this is a story of theft, of child abuse and of racism all rolled into one. Let’s be clear about that. But here’s what the president of the United States thinks.

DT: They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied, alien minors. They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.

MH: These kids are not innocent, he says. Disgusting. Seriously. Even by his standards, disgusting. And look I get it, the Obama administration did some horrific things when it came to immigration and border security, from deporting millions of people to detaining unaccompanied kids. But what Trump is doing is on a whole different level. Listen to Lee Gelernt from the ACLU, speaking on my colleague Jeremy Scahill’s podcast Intercepted, back in June:

Lee Gelernt: It’s horrendous. It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in my 25+ years of doing civil rights work.

MH: So, look, we shouldn’t give Obama a pass on immigration but nor should we deny that Trump is way, way worse. And one of the main reasons he’s worse and why he’s so dangerous is because his immigration policy isn’t a reaction to an actual migrant crisis, to increasing numbers at the border, or even to pressure from the press or the public; it’s a product of, it’s motivated by, white nationalism.

When Trump appoints Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller to his administration, and let s them decide immigration policy, that’s white nationalism. When he talks about migrant caravans and gangs invading and infesting the United States, he’s borrowing language and imagery straight of out of one of the one key texts of the white nationalist movement, a racist French novel called the Camp of the Saints. When he tells his aides that he wants fewer immigrants from “shithole” countries in Africa and more immigrants from places like Norway, that’s white nationalism.

So, let’s not discuss or debate immigration or asylum or ‘border security’ in a vacuum; let’s discuss it in the context of a presidency that is driven by white nationalism; an administration that has no qualms stealing, detaining and abusing migrant children in order to appease its racist base and to get that base to come out and vote for more of the same.

[musical interlude]

MH: My guest today is an award-winning journalist, perhaps the most recognizable face in Spanish-language media in the U.S., who’s been outspoken on the issue of kids in detention and is an immigrant from Mexico himself.

Jorge Ramos: I came here to this country on January 2, 1983 and I had left Mexico because of censorship. Back then, Mexico was not a democracy.

MH: That’s Jorge Ramos on the first episode of his new “Facebook Watch” series, Real America, which launched in September and looks at the modern immigrant experience in the U.S. Since the election of Donald Trump, Ramos has been one of the most persistent voices asking difficult questions about the administration’s immigration policies. It was that tendency, in fact, that got him thrown out of a Trump press conference way back in 2015.

DT: Excuse me, sit down. You weren’t called. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Go ahead.

JR: I have the right to ask a question.

DT: No, you don’t. You haven’t been called.

JR: I have the right to ask a question.

DT: Go back to Univision.

MH: Jorge Ramos, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed. Congratulations on the launch of your new Univision Facebook series “Real America.” On the first episode of that show you talked about what the political climate was like in the United States on the issue of immigration when you first came here as an immigrant on a student visa in 1983. You even include a clip of Ronald Reagan famously speaking about immigrants in front of the Statue of Liberty in 1980.

Ronald Reagan: They came to make America work. They didn’t ask what this country could do for them but what they could do to make this, this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history.

MH: So, when it comes to immigration, especially from Latin America, how different is the U.S. of Ronald Reagan in 1983 to the U.S. of today under Donald J. Trump?

JR: It is completely different. Sometimes it feels like a different country. When I arrived it was January 1983. It was completely different. This country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin, Mexico, couldn’t give me. Back then Mexico was not a democracy. I wanted to be a journalist and I didn’t want to be censored, and the United States, Los Angeles as a city, help me be the journalist that I am today. And just a few years later in 1986, it was precisely Ronald Reagan who gave an amnesty —

MH: Yes.

JR: — to more than three million people in this country and now what we are seeing is exactly the opposite.

MH: So, Jorge, like you, I’m an immigrant to the U.S. I’m a Muslim immigrant from the U.K. and I made the brilliantly-timed move of coming to the U.S. in 2015, just a few weeks before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. Now, obviously, I knew that Muslims were not that popular in this country even before Trump, but I never imagined things would get to the point where you now have a Supreme Court-approved Muslim ban. Is that how you feel that you knew things weren’t great for Mexican immigrants when you moved here but you never imagined America would elect as president a man who claimed Mexico is sending rapists here on purpose?

JR: It was very difficult to think that something like that was going to happen, but we knew it was coming. It’s just that a lot of people didn’t want to listen what we were saying. On June 2015, Donald Trump in New York City actually said that Mexican immigrants were criminals, drug traffickers, and rapists. He said that. Some of his followers and some of his supporters now are saying “Well, he really didn’t mean that. He actually meant the undocumented immigrants in this country.” No, that is not true. He said something completely different.

MH: Let’s talk about “family separations” at the border which like you, I regard as one of the biggest domestic scandals of this scandal-ridden presidency. Jorge, you’ve covered a lot of political stories in your thirty-five-odd years of doing journalism here in the United States. A lot of stories you’ve covered at the border on immigration. Where does this story about separations, about kids being ripped from their parents and put in cages, where does that rank in terms of stories that have shocked you? How bad is it?

JR: You know last week, I was in in McAllen, Texas and I saw a group of women, two mothers with their kids, three and five, and two unaccompanied minors, one 13 and one 15. They were coming from Honduras. They were escaping, you know, violence, poverty, hunger. And that’s the kind of people that Donald Trump used precisely as his example as a deterrent. I’ve been in this country for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. Just imagine what would happen if it would be Mexico doing that to U.S. children. What would happen if Mexico or Canada –

MH: We would’ve invaded by now.

JR: It would have been a completely different story, but somehow nothing happens with Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter what we do, nothing is happening with Donald Trump. So, I honestly, as a journalist, I’m getting ready for another two more years and probably for another six years because this is not ending.

MH: On a recent episode of your podcast Contrapoder, you spoke with the aunt of Alison Valencia Madrid, the six-year-old Salvadoran girl who was separated from her mother, but had memorized her aunt’s phone number, managed to make a phone call to her aunt from her detention facility. ProPublica obtained that recording famously of that call.

[children crying]

MH: You’re hearing wailing children in the background, but what shocked a lot of people even more is that you can hear a man’s voice, presumably an immigration officer, joking in Spanish.

Immigration Officer: Bueno, aquí tenemos una orquesta!

MH: We’ve got an orchestra here. All we need is a conductor. This is not just security or border control. This is cruelty. This is depraved behavior is it not?

JR: It is cruelty and I think it is our responsibility as journalists to denounce it as it is. I’m honestly not surprised. We knew this was happening. Unfortunately, many journalists and many politicians just didn’t believe us. The same way when he ejected me from a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa. We were saying come on this is an attack on the press. This is an attack on freedom of the press, on the First Amendment and nobody paid attention. Of course, when people realized what was happening it was already too late.

MH: Do you worry that the U.S. media has moved on too quickly from this story with the kids at the border; that journalists are too easily distracted by all the shiny new scandals and gaffes and outrages that Trump has basically produced on a daily basis since kids in cages became a global news story back in May and June of this year?

JR: Yeah, I’m very concerned about that. I think  we are normalizing racism. I think we are normalizing cruelty. It’s normal now to talk about children being separated from their parents. How is that possible?

MH: It’s outrageous.

JR: At this moment it’s happening, yeah.

MH: You’ve also interviewed a woman on your show named Elena Martinez from El Salvador who came to the California border seeking Asylum with her husband and sons aged five and eleven. Her husband and older son ended up in a detention center and then that son was separated from her husband. At the time of your interview neither she nor her husband had seen the child in over a month. What are these people going through on a daily basis? How are they dealing with this trauma? I cannot imagine, Jorge,  what state I’d be in if either of my daughter’s, God forbid, were taken from me and just disappeared.

JR: It is traumatic for them. It is incredibly difficult. However, you know, what I’m most surprised and really shocked, is that after talking to them, they are telling me that they would do it again. In McAllen, there’s a refugee center run by Sister Norma Pimentel. She’s an incredible woman and there I met about two hundred immigrants most of them coming from Honduras and Guatemala, and I was asking them “So haven’t you heard what’s happening at the border, you coming with your kids with your children, why are you risking it?” And they were telling me “You know, Jorge. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to risk it because if we stay in Honduras, if we stay in San Pedro Sula, in Tegucigalpa, gang members might want my boy to be part of the gang or gang members might want to rape my daughter if the whole family doesn’t support them.

MH: Which makes a mockery of Trump’s whole zero tolerance. He doesn’t understand that these people are trying to survive.

JR: Exactly, and I think we make a mistake by just calling them immigrants. I think we have to call them what they are which is refugees.

MH: Exactly. A hundred percent agree.

JR: And by calling them refugees they deserve certain protections, according to international laws, that are not being given by the U.S. government, and I still can’t believe that we have lowered the number of refugees being admitted to this country.

MH: Trump claimed over the summer, the day before he reluctantly, belatedly signed an executive order bringing forced family separations to an end, he said “My people love this.” I mean people talk about political correctness. The political correctness I see, the self-censorship I see in the U.S. media right now as an outsider, as a newcomer to the U.S. is the refusal of reporters and journalists to call out the white nationalism that’s in front of them. To say that, you know, policies on Puerto Rico or policies on the kids at the border, these are not accidents but these are deliberate policies aimed at stoking up a base, aimed and informed by a particular ideology.

JR: Absolutely and I’m glad that you mentioned the case of Puerto Rico because that’s the best example on how Latinos — and Puerto Ricans are Latinos or considered Latinos — are being treated as second-class citizens. In nine days after Hurricane Harvey destroyed parts of Texas according to, the money that the victims in Texas received, the food and water that the victims in Texas received was much, much larger than the victims in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

It is something that we can actually count. We saw how President Trump treated with disdain and how he humiliated the victims of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico by throwing them rolls of paper towels. I didn’t see President Trump doing that recently in North Carolina. I didn’t see him doing that with the victims of hurricanes in Florida and in Texas. But simply because Puerto Ricans were considered second-class citizens President Trump got away with that, and then he even said that it was an incredible success when you had 3,000 people, almost 3,000 people who have died in Puerto Rico. That is simply incredible.

MH: Now he denies the number.

JR: Exactly.

MH: Going back to the election campaign on the summer of 2015, you were famously trying to ask Donald Trump a question at a press conference and he wouldn’t let you speak. Eventually he had his thug of a bodyguard Keith Schiller physically remove you.

News Anchor: Security personnel escorted Ramos from the event after he challenged Trump on his immigration proposal. Trump told NBC’s Today Show that Ramos was “Ranting and raving like a madman.”

DT: Sit down. Sit down. Go ahead.

JR: I have the right to ask a question.

DT: No, you don’t. You haven’t been called.

MH: What was going through your mind that day? Did you know then before a lot of the rest of us what kind of an authoritarian President Trump would turn out to be?

JR: I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I never expected that a U.S. politician would eject me from a press conference. I mean, I would expect that from an authoritarian country not from the U.S. That’s exactly what happened. By the way, the only other person who prevented me from asking a question with a bodyguard was Fidel Castro. So here you have Fidel Castro and Donald Trump doing exactly the same thing. So this is important because when Trump said that again Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists, we said “This is racist.” When Donald Trump ejected me from a press conference, we were saying “Well right now it’s a Latino journalist.” But next it’s going to be a different attack on the press and nobody paid attention.

MH: So, did you feel let down by your U.S. media colleagues, many of whom didn’t have your back, when you were being mistreated by Trump at that presser. They were complaining that you were too opinionated. You were too much of an activist. You were the Latino guy.

JR: Exactly, and what shocked me is that instead of defending me, some of them simply raised their hands and waited for Donald Trump to give them the possibility of asking a question.

MH: Shameful.

JR: But to be to be very honest here, two journalist Tom Llamas from ABC News and Kasie Hunt from MSNBC, they stood up in the middle of the press conference and they told Donald Trump, “Mr. Trump, you cannot do that.” And then both of them asked the then-candidate to allow me to come back and ask the questions instead of them. And I did. I came back. Many people don’t remember that I came back and that I was able to have a conversation with him for five to seven minutes. However, thanks to Tom Llamas and Kasie Hunt —

MH: They sadly were in the minority that day. When you have a media that is as white as the American media is, it makes it hard, I would argue, for a lot of them to take the Trump threat seriously. Because they’re not experiencing that threat personally. It’s not white people who are having their families prevented from entering the U.S. because of the Muslim ban. It’s not white people who are being compared to rapists or animals by the president. It’s not white people who being shot by the police at traffic stops and then labeled sons of bitches when they protest those shootings. Do you think that’s fair what I’m saying that the Trump threat is personal to people like you and me, but sadly not for a lot of our white Anglo-Saxon colleagues whether they’re liberal or conservative?

JR: Among your examples, let me let me add that I’m among immigrants all the time. I’m an immigrant. Some of them have documents. Some of them don’t. And many of the immigrants that I talk to are afraid simply just to go out and drive because they don’t know if they’re coming back to their homes. Two days ago, I had the fortune of participating in an event with Jose Antonio Vargas. He’s a Filipino. He realized when he was 16, when applying for a driver’s license, that he was undocumented in this country.

He’s probably the most famous undocumented immigrant in this country, but he used to work for the Washington Post and he won a Pulitzer Prize. This is the kind of contradictions that we see in this country. Of course, part of our problem as a community, as a Latino community is lack of representation.

I’ll give you a quick example. We’re about twenty percent of the population, but we only have four senators. Well the same thing happens in the media. We don’t have the political representation and we don’t have the media representation that we deserve.

MH: It’s amazing. You mention media representation. I mean, I moved here in 2015 and I’d heard so much about how Hispanic Americans are going to determine the future of the U.S. by 2050. They’re going to be part of this new majority-minority population and yet, then I turned to the media and communities like yours, Mexican Americans and others are so underrepresented in the media. The New York Times, The Washington Post don’t have a regular columnist on their op-ed pages from any Latino communities. Forget Fox News, CNN, MSNBC their nightly lineups, their big-name anchors don’t include a single Hispanic face as far as I can see.

JR: Yeah, I agree with you and part of the problem is that when you don’t have enough Latino journalists working in these incredible institutions, then they make mistakes. How come the Washington Post and The New York Times still call undocumented immigrants “illegal immigrants”? No human being is illegal. But still here you have The New York Times And The Washington Post using exactly the same terms, sometimes illegal aliens, as the border patrol and ICE. Isn’t that taking part of an argument? Isn’t that standing for a cause and or for a group or for a movement that does not represent America correctly?

I do believe that with more Latinos in positions of power that would be different. I think as Latinos we are going from big numbers to power but still we’re far, far away from the numbers that we deserve.

MH: And before we finish Jorge, on a personal note ten years ago, you became a U.S. citizen. A quarter century after moving here. How come it took so long?

JR: It’s complicated. I lived 25 years in Mexico, and I wanted to live 25 years here in the United States to become a U.S. citizen. And I wanted to do it because I had to cover the war in Iraq, and I wanted to make sure that, it was a war that started under false pretenses. Remember that there were no weapons of mass destruction and I was concerned about my children, and I was concerned about my family, and I was concerned about my country. So, I wanted to fully participate and now I am a U.S. citizen but I also have a Mexican citizenship. So, people here in the United States cannot understand the fact that I am an amphibian — sometimes Mexican, sometimes American. I have a green passport and a blue passport and sometimes I choose to be American or Mexican depending on how long is the line at the Mexico City Airport. That’s the truth.

MH: And 10 years later, given the U.S. we now live in, do you have any regrets about becoming a U.S. citizen?

JR: Oh, no, not at all because that’s exactly who I am. I am Mexican-American. I am Chicano sometimes because I came through through California. Sometimes I’m Chilango which means that I’m from Mexico City. I still, as you can tell, I still speak English with an accent and I am amphibian. I’m going from one world to the other and trying to translate from one world to the other, from one language to the other, from one group to another.

MH: But isn’t that what so exciting? So many of us can hold multiple identities and yet there are still so many people out there who see that as a threat, as something to be afraid of rather than something to embrace?

JR: Yeah, and it is the United States looking at the mirror and then realizing that it’s very different than what he or she had in mind. It is, you know, I don’t know if you’ve done your DNA testing. I did it recently and I’m surprised to realize that I’m part of me is from Europe but part of me is from Africa and from Asia. Well, I think right now, the moment that we’re living with Donald Trump, is the United States opening that envelope and then realizing “Oh my God, we’re not white.”

MH: Jorge Ramos, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

JR: Thank you.

MH: That was Jorge Ramos of Univision, talking immigration. And look, if you want immigration policy in this country to change, if you want to stop kids from being detained, and taken from their parents, you’re gonna have to go out and vote on November 6th. Don’t just read stories about kids in detention online and get mad, don’t just listen to podcasts like this one and get frustrated, do something about it. Get out there and and get our politicians to change the policy. Those kids are depending on you.

[musical interlude]

That’s our show. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and is distributed by Panoply.  Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever.  If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

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