Investigating the Reality of an Immigrant “Invasion” | Empathetic Information Literacy Essay 2 by Olivia Mann

Corrigan’s Editorial Note: I designed and taught a first-year writing course on the theme of Fake News. I asked students to write four essays. The first grounded the course in an exploration of what truth is, why it matters, how to sort it out, and how to avoid being duped by those who would distort it. The second and third asked students to practice truth sorting, first together as a class and then independently, using a method I call Empathetic Information Literacy. My student Olivia Mann did excellent work throughout the whole course and then edited her writing afterward for it to appear here. This is the second of her four essays.

On May 9th, 2019 a campaign rally was held in Melbourne, Florida. During a speech that lasted a little under an hour, four words were spoken with certainty and confidence: “This is an invasion.” Now, that is a serious and concerning statement that has caught the attention of many people, focusing their attention on those arriving at the U.S-Mexico border from Central America. These words were spoken by the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Having heard the situation at the border described as an “invasion” so many times by many people, I wanted to understand the truth. Using the techniques of empathetic information literacy, I have endeavored to do that by pausing, asking, caring, checking, and eventually acting. 

1. Pause

People matter, issues matter. I care, I have to care in order to be okay with myself. Caring is what I do, but sometimes caring too deeply can turn into a weakness when it behaves like the quick draw of a gun. When something becomes important to me, I want to react, I want to know and decide so I can turn my attention to how I should feel. Once I can make it to the stage of choosing and selecting my emotions, I can carry on with a circumstance. But in doing all of this, I miss the opportunity to truly care properly in a better, calmer state of mind. Maybe the best way I can care is by pausing. If I want to help, I need to take time to turn off my mental browser – close the tabs, quit the applications, minimize the pictures, pause the audio, and restart. Making everything fresh and clean does not make them perfect, nor cold – they should never be completely cold – but they are calmer. That is how I can best help and care; how I can best do what I must. 

To pause, I journaled. I just transcribed most of the results of that endeavor. I committed to remembering to breathe, take things slow, and to sleep on issues and thoughts. Throughout the rest of the following steps, I continued to implement all of these tactics. Each time I read something, I would pause and go get water, a snack, talk a walk, or do something fun. Then, I would come back and write. I found this especially important when I was working through the caring step because I had to continually make sure I didn’t jump to an emotional conclusion while remaining connected to the feelings of the people involved. Who knew a bottle of water or checking some emails could have so much power?

2. Ask

After journaling, I started asking questions. The first and most integral being whether the claim was true or not. I turned the statement – “This is an invasion” – into a question I could answer: “Is this an invasion?” There is a variety of possible answers. It could be an invasion, it could not be an invasion, it could be undeterminable, it could be half-way an invasion. But I also had other questions. Who else has made this claim? What is their reasoning? What might motivate them to say this, or what might they be trying to achieve by making others agree? What do the “invaders” think about this term? What are these “invaders” bringing and why are they coming? How many have come? What exactly in an invasion? Should we be worried, and do we need to do something about it?

3. Care

I figured that I might be able to understand answers to some of these questions if I learned more about the people who were coming across the border. To quote my professor, Dr. Corrigan: “If you were to actually listen to their story, perhaps you would care about them even more.” The first way I did this was by reading a book called Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. In this novel, I heard about the stories of many children that the author encountered coming across the border as undocumented immigrants. As I worked my way through the book, I took the time to react to certain passages about their stories and digest the information by written some quick poetry. I did this about eight times, but a couple  passages impacted me the most. The first was about how these children have incredible resilience, even to the point of leaping onto moving trains. Their instinct for survival, their literal and figurative hunger, and their desperate hope for the future will cause them to take horrific risks to reach the other side. For many of them, the monsters under their beds have followed them into the day and they will search for any half-stable platform to rest their weary soul. 

The second was about a description of the children’s journey. They put their lives in other’s hands, hoping not to be captured, enslaved, raped, or killed – outcomes for which no one will be held accountable. Then, once they reach the end of the journey they are on their own and have to turn themselves in to border patrol agents who may treat them roughly on the way to be placed in a temporary shelter. The stress only increases from there as they must find a sponsor to live with, find a lawyer, and fight in court against their deportation just to keep the dream alive they have worked so hard for all this time. 

I also watched several mini-documentaries. These showed the conditions and the destitution of the journey. These children, families, and other refugees are simply walking with nothing but what they can carry. Sometimes they hitch rides, sometimes they join with a group, occasionally they even form themselves a new family. But more than anything they are in a situation that tugged at my heartstrings. What would drive me to run from everything I had ever known? I investigated that question as I read and watched. Most of them run because they will be killed, get their family killed, they have faced sexual assault or exploitation, or because they have nothing left. The hope of America is the only possibility for a future for these children who are as accustomed to seeing corpses in the streets as we are to seeing cars. Drugs have made gang violence horrific, young boys become caught between rival gangs and young girls become trophies, their bodies bartering chips. As I gathered these facts, I also gathered names. Adilene, Anthony, Gustavo, Karen, Alexander, Malora, Brian, the Lopez clan, Manu, Patricia, Marta, Alina. Just a handful, and yet I felt my heart burdened for them. 

Suddenly, the questions I had been asking became very real. These invaders don’t view themselves with that label, they are just trying to create a new life where old lives have been threatened to extinction. They bring nothing but themselves and what little necessities they can carry, intending only to get to America and be safe. Not all of my answers were found at that point, but I certainly was motivated to continue. This was something I needed to get to the bottom of if I wanted to be the person I consider myself. 

4. Check

There is no doubt about the fact that President Trump has made the claim that “this is an invasion”. His rallies were on live television and he has also stated the words in numerous tweets. Before reading Tell Me How It Ends I had read another book called Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller. While investigating this “invasion” claim, certain sections of that book came to mind. Miller talked about charismatic leaders, and one of the characteristics was that “their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group.” These charismatic leaders gain their power from dividing people into “us and them” – demagoguery in a nutshell – and by acting irresponsibly and erratically. To me, this sounded a lot like what is happening with the immigration debate. The issue seems to be commonly boiled down into two very passionate, very divisive, and very angry sides. The claim that the wave of migrants is an “invasion” is very strong wordage. Miller seems to mention language such as this: “Another striking characteristic of demagoguery is how much it is a rhetoric of victimization. We are being victimized by the situation”. Essentially, she describes this kind of tactic as “fearmongering”. I perceive this to be the answer to the question regarding the motives of those making the claim. There is perhaps an effort to scare everyone, to make everyone think the worst. That does not have to mean the claim is false, but it is a strong indicator that it should be looked into to determine if there is exaggeration involved. 

Therefore, I decided to check into some of the numbers involved in this “invasion”. Antonio Flores, Luis Noe-Bustamante, and Mark Hugo Lopez Pew Research wrote a statistics-heavy article for Pew Research. They focused their attention on the migrant apprehensions in Mexico, numbers indicative of the increased pressure Mexico has faced to be a thicker border for the United States. Their opening paragraph says that: 

Mexico has apprehended and deported more migrants within its borders so far this fiscal year than at the same point in fiscal 2018, though the totals remain well below levels recorded in other recent years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from Mexico’s office for population and immigration statistics.

It would seem that the numbers may have increased recently, but have not reached an overall high for even this decade. The researchers go onto to show this through several batches of numbers, the most integral of which being: 

Mexican authorities apprehended nearly 92,000 migrants in the first seven months of fiscal 2019, up 32% from the same period the previous year. Still, this year’s total remains below the 141,000 apprehensions made during the same period in fiscal 2006”. 

With this in mind, we see that it could be quite possible the situation is being exaggerated somewhat. While these numbers are only Mexico’s apprehensions, not the United States, it shows us how many people are moving north from Central America – a lot but not as many as we’ve seen in the past. 

I decided to turn my attention to one of the more pivotal questions I still had: What is an invasion? We talked about this in class, examining the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word. Oxford defines invasion foremost as “the action of invading a country or territory as an enemy; an entrance or incursion with armed force; a hostile inroad.” In class, we determined “entrance, enemy, and hostile” to be the defining characteristics of invasion based on this definition. If you have a hostile entrance of someone who is not an enemy, that might be reinforcements. If you have an enemy entrance with no hostility, then you have something strange but not an invasion. If you have hostile enemies but they do not enter, then you have a concern, maybe even a threat, but not an invasion. Yes, the migrants are entering – although not all of them. Are they hostile? Some, maybe. But if we speak of children, teens, and families who are truly coming for a better life, for any life and future at all, then they are not hostile. That leaves us with enemy. Are these migrants our enemy? I think that’s another important question I have reached. 

If these migrants are our enemy, why? What do they threaten? What have they done to deserve that label? Certainly, people must think this is the case if they are calling the wave of migrants an invasion, but what is the reasoning? Some might say the migrants are a threat to our jobs, our way of life, our safety, our English-language, and our culture. These things can all be looked at both ways, and it sounds to me that maybe those people who say these things are more afraid of change than the migrants themselves. Now, there are legitimate concerns for the economy when it comes to our country supporting this influx of new people, but that is not the truth issue at hand and may be a question I could investigate another time. 

Is this an invasion? Well, with everything I have looked at, no. The only way it would be an invasion is if we consider these desperate people fleeing hardship as our enemy. There is a passage near the end of Chapter 2 in “Tell me How it Ends” that has stuck out to me the entire time I read the book. Valeria Luiselli says “No one, or almost no one, from producers to consumers, is willing to accept their role in the great theatre of devastation of these children’s lives.” She explains that the reality of a hemispheric drug and gang war that has driven these migrants from their homes is a concept we are not willing to accept because it would force us to rethink our language. “[A] “war refugee” is bad news and an uncomfortable truth for governments, because it obliges them to deal with the problem instead of simply “removing the illegal aliens.”” Aliens can invade, war refugees simply flee.

5. Act

Now that I had determined the “invasion” claim to be false, I knew I had to do something regarding what I had found. I couldn’t just sit back anymore. After all, this started with care. I decided to compile some of the information above into a concise letter. I included the Oxford Dictionary definition, Pew Research statsistics, and some of my thought processes in the letter, laying out what I had determined and inviting the receiver to consider the perspective. At the end, I explained that the problem is not that these people are coming, it is that they are forced to come illegally. If we can fix the legal immigration system and show some compassion for these families and individuals who mean us no harm, then we can lower illegal immigration and allow these people a new future. “Invasion” is a harsh and extreme word better replaced with “increase in refugees”. We are the representatives of America’s voice, and we are the gatekeepers of the American dream. Then, I used an online form to send the letter to Senator Rick Scott of Florida. In the future, I may write another more in-depth letter and send it on paper. But I wanted to take some sort of action as quickly as possible.

Works Cited

Campbell, Fernández A. “Trump described an imaginary “invasion” at the border 2 dozen times in the past year.” Vox, Aug. 7, 2019.

Flores, Antonio, et al. “Migrant apprehensions and deportations increase in Mexico, but remain below recent highs.” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2019. 

“Invasion.” Oxford English Dictionary. 

Luiselli, Valeria. “Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions.” HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. 

“President Trump Rally in Melbourne, Florida.” C-SPAN, Feb. 18, 2017,

Roberts-Miller, Patricia. “Demagoguery and Democracy.” The Experiment, June 13, 2017.


CBP photo by Jerry Glaser (2019, Public Domain)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s