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Caravan crisis at border — it’s complicated

November 30, 2018

Hola from the front row of the caravan crisis in San Diego. The U.S.-Mexico border is just 17 miles from America’s Finest City. So here are 17 observations:

From perches in New York and Washington, the liberal media showed again how little they know about immigration when some commentators claimed, after the election, that the caravan was fake news. It’s here.

Conservatives are so eager to dismiss the idea that these arrivals from Central America are seeking asylum that they pounce whenever one of them says in an interview that they’re actually coming to work. Remember when those on the right used to say they wanted immigrants to work?

When entering a foreign country, a little humility goes a long way. Many of the refugees have been on their best behaviors. Others threw rocks and tossed tear gas canisters back to the Border Patrol agents who fired them.

Who knew that border hawks are so easily distracted by nonissues? Many are fixated on the fact that so many members of the caravan are not women and children but young men. So what? Does that mean they are any less in need of refuge?

It is not a good idea for immigrant advocates to downplay allegations of rock throwing by caravan members. It’s a real act of violence, and a real threat that has for years resulted in Border Patrol agents being wounded and, in some cases, permanently blinded by border crossers.

It’s not productive for anti-immigrant forces to blame migrant parents for putting their children in harm’s way. As opposed to what? Staying in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador so their children could be harmed, or killed, there?

According to media reports, there was an argument in the White House over whether to allow U.S. troops on the border to use “lethal force.” Those opposed: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and her predecessor, chief of staff John Kelly. That is, folks who understand the border.

President Donald Trump’s threat to “close the border” if Mexico doesn’t keep the Central Americans south of the Rio Grande is hot air. Forget that closing down a nearly 2,000-mile border might be illegal. The real snag: It’s not possible.

Federal immigration agents have to hold off those who try to crash the gate. That’s their job, and they must be free to do it.

This doesn’t mean that Border Patrol agents should not be held accountable for their actions. They should be. Spraying migrants with tear gas, including women and children, raised eyebrows a few weeks ago on the Mexico-Guatemala border. And it’s raising eyebrows again now that it is happening on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Right-wingers went nuts when Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that seeking refuge “isn’t a crime” for Central Americans any more than it was for “Jewish families fleeing Germany.” She was making this point: Americans can be fickle depending on who’s at the door.

Speaking of racists, all they see is color. Like when Ron Colburn, president of an outfit called the Border Patrol Foundation, told Fox News that the Border Patrol agents were fending off migrants with a pepper spray so natural that “you could actually put it on your nachos and eat it.”

The hostility that Central Americans are facing in Mexico isn’t about racism. It’s about other “-isms” that aren’t any better: elitism and classism. It is appalling that Mexicans — who expect to be treated well by their northern neighbors — treat their southern neighbors so poorly.

As badly as this administration has bungled immigration, Democrats are no prize. They have no ideas, no integrity and no credibility with immigrant activists given that they often overcompensate on deportations and enforcement as if to prove they’re not weak on border security.

Reportedly there is a deal between the U.S. and Mexico in which Mexico houses asylum seekers on its side of the border while their applications are considered by the U.S. This is not a solution. It’s just a way to create more problems.

The photo of a young girl in the caravan, smiling and waving the American flag against a backdrop of makeshift tents, is both haunting and poetic. Is this who we’re supposed to be afraid of?

Many of these people are exactly the sort we want in this country: bold risk takers who will walk hundreds of miles and literally crawl under barbed wire to get a taste of what so many native-born Americans take for granted.

This is a complicated problem — and a recurring one. Why do people from Central America keep coming to the United States? We’ve hired them, and their family members, for years. They come because they know the way.

ruben@rubennavarrette.com

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