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Desperation + fearmongering = crisis

November 30, 2018

Desperation, bad policy, then tear gas

What happens when desperation meets fearmongering policies? We saw it this week with the tear gassing of Central Americans who rushed the U.S. border in Tijuana.

It was unwise to rush the border, and not only because it handed the Trump administration the ammo it sought in portraying this otherwise peaceful caravan of asylum seekers as tough criminals. Make no mistake, the dynamics behind this clash are mostly of the administration’s making.

The administration telegraphed tough language that asylum-seekers’ petitions wouldn’t be considered as broadly as the law specifies. A federal judge has blocked the presidential proclamation that would restrict asylum, but U.S. authorities essentially created a bottleneck for asylum seekers, processing as few as it could.

This created tent cities and squatting that have bred frustration and pose a crisis for the Mexican government as would-be asylum-seekers languish, now targets of drug cartels and other criminal elements— and the kind of violence they are fleeing in their own countries. And their desperation grows by the minute.

While most of the migrants have been peaceful, several did attempt to circumvent Mexican authorities — some reportedly hurling projectiles — and rush the border.

The Border Patrol responded with a couple dozen tear gas cannisters lobbed at them across the border on Sunday. The president then attempted to convince Americans that women and children weren’t in this group when the evidence says otherwise. Yes, this has been done before, but not with a prelude of this magnitude — separation of families, indefinite detention of same. And now tear gas. These are not credible immigration policies for this or any other administration. And, despite the attempt of a small portion of the migrants to scale the border, their danger to the nation remains mostly imaginary. They remain refugees fleeing the lawless dysfunction of their own countries; they are not the criminals and terrorists that the president’s fearmongering rhetoric would have us believe.

Yes, the U.S. has an obligation to protect its borders. But there are smarter — more proactive — ways to do that, comprehensive immigration reform among them. The Mexican government has responded by deporting those who tried to breach the border and U.S. authorities arrested the 42 who managed to cross.

It didn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending troops (mostly to Texas) and attempting to restrict what is a perfectly legal pursuit — seeking asylum — the Trump administration might have sent more immigration judges to process the influx. The president’s objection to this is based on a falsehood — his own. He has contended that only 3 percent of those who enter the U.S. ever show up for their own proceedings after being released.

But as fact-checking by the New York Times’ Linda Qiu showed, the Justice Department’s own data reveal that most immigrants show up for their proceedings — in 2017, 28 percent failed to show up. That’s far from 97 percent. Moreover, only 11 percent of asylum seekers fail to show up.

She wrote, “Of the asylum seekers who participated in a pilot program tested as an alternative to detention, 99 percent attended Immigration and Custom Enforcement check-ins and appointments. And 100 percent turned up for court hearings.”

On top of that, a relatively small portion of asylum seekers are granted asylum.

Earlier, the president said troops who had things thrown at them should answer with bullets. Fortunately, that didn’t happen in Tijuana, but imagine if it had.

It’s long past time for the administration to cool its rhetoric and to continue negotiating with the Mexican government on more adequately sheltering migrants — in Mexico — awaiting asylum hearings. Then to more robustly attack the root problems causing the exodus — lawlessness in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

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