Other Asylum Seekers Have Made the Trek Before With Little Notice, But Now Trump Wants to Make It a Crisis
Well, that feared Caravan of marauding invaders has finally reached our southern border in Tijuana. I hope Trump thinks that activating 2,000 trained National Guardsmen in four states to buttress the thousands of U.S. border agents is sufficient to repel 150 women, children and families with stories of hopelessness, hunger and gang violence against them.
There is a real gap here in the need for a solution to a problem that just doesn’t require the level of spite and militaristic strength that the Trump’s crew is fanning.
The plan of the Caravan folks, mostly poor victims of economic and physical abuse in their native Honduras, is to line up in an orderly fashion and to file forms seeking asylum in the U.S. The stories of individuals who have made the trek across Mexico are filled with pathos; they cry for empathy, rather than the kind of U.S. stomping words that have filled the air in rallies by and for the president. The television pictures of people sleeping on the concrete outside the border buildings where application in person is required raise new questions about what exact threat we see from these particular individuals.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the Caravan “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system.”
Perhaps the better response by the Department of Homeland Security would have been to dispatch a few more bureaucrats to handle the paperwork. The asylum process has so much red tape that it will take days to fill out forms and months or longer to complete interviews. It is likely to split families for the duration in separate holding facilities in different states.
The rules specify that economic reasons alone are not sufficient to qualify for asylum. Indeed, applicants will need some kind of documents proving physical violence or threats; it is unlikely such proof was obtained when people ran for their lives. We can expect that through bureaucracy alone, most of these 150 folks will be rebuffed and sent away to wander stateless in search of a new life. To qualify for asylum applicants must prove they have been persecuted or fear persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular group. People who request protection at a United States entry point must be referred to an asylum officer for a screening interview and possibly an appearance before an immigration judge.
In recent years, there have been other caravans with people traveling together for safety and, frankly, as a PR event. This year, Trump bit on the bait and has made it a national crisis.
The only problem is that there is no crisis. Instead, both legal and illegal immigration numbers have been falling as Trump has made clear that the U.S. is becoming officially less gracious to those not born here. Thus the answer is a Wall, and paramilitary border patrols, or overly broad travel bans or more difficult entry tests for non-visa waiver nations or a smoldering fear of anyone from a majority Muslim nation.
The only thing that is clear about the whole mess is that the Caravan—and the larger immigration issue—has graduated from actual problem to Trump campaign messaging. Anti-immigrant feelings clearly appeal to those seeking scapegoats for changing economies that increasingly are leaving behind a wide segment of American manufacturing workers, in particular.
Trump’s broadsides against immigration, whether legal or illegal, present an amalgam of security concerns about terrorism, a desire to stem drug imports and fulfillment of some far-flung notion of a better past when American plants hired American workers only. Indeed, Trump’s promises of better job growth for lost industries like coal mining depend on eliminating any competition for manual and semi-skilled labor. But every study, interview and common-sense conclusion is that Americans are not lining up for chicken feather-plucking jobs any more than they are for seasonal, migrant agricultural jobs.
Americans’ aversion to such work is why Trump himself seeks specialized visas for foreigners to work at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida or at the family-owned vineyards in Virginia.
Trump complained that legal aid lawyers were advising Caravan members about what to say and how to present their asylum complaints, as if there is something wrong with doing so. In his own life, Trump’s legal issues arise, in part, from his refusal to actually listen to the many lawyers he has surrounding him before he dismisses them. But he always has lawyers.
I watched 60 Minutes this week about introducing and testing for new approaches to cancer treatments based on gene repair. Everyone in the story had been an immigrant to this country. Everyone I know has an immigration story; everyone Trump knows, including his wife/wives, has an immigration story.
Yet he relies on the use of immigration images as scapegoats for pockets of underperformance in the economy as the answer to frustration. The same thing happened in the 1930s in Germany, and in Bosnia and in Rwanda and in other places where one population’s hopes and dreams were pitted against another’s.
We do have lots of issues with immigration.
The Caravan story reminds us that it is a shame that we can’t look them honestly and try to come up with appropriate solutions.