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Compassion for caravan

Somewhere in the West Wing, there is doubtless a White House staffer assigned the task of collecting dehumanizing language for the administration to use to describe the thousands of Central American migrants on their journey in southern Mexico headed to the United States. They are a “horde,” a “swarm,” an “invasion.” They include “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” and such caravans are a “disgrace to the Democrat Party.” Those last two quotes may seem far-fetched, by they were offered by President Donald Trump himself on Twitter Sunday and Monday.

Politicizing the plight of desperate people, including mothers and children who are fleeing crime and poverty, is familiar turf for this nation’s 45th president. Mr. Trump has already been warning of “closing the border” and sending in the military and “not our reserves.” He’s warned the nations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that he’s prepared to cut back aid from the U.S. for their failure to stop people from leaving their country (as if restricting travel rights was a good thing). And the president even suggested last week at a Montana rally that the Democrats were behind the latest caravan — adding to the false claim that George Soros is funding it.

All of this amounts to a huge overreaction to what, at the end of the day, is simply a group of people desperately searching for a better life. To show compassion for such individuals doesn’t mean having “open borders” or denying U.S. sovereignty or any of the other false trade-offs that President Trump likes to offer. These are refugees. In other parts of the world, countries are dealing with hundreds of thousands, in some cases millions, of displaced people. Can’t the U.S. and Mexico find a way to help thousands?

Mr. Trump can begin that missing compassion by simply not demonizing them. There is no shortage of reporters traveling with the latest caravan. What they are finding are people who are tired, hungry, frightened and suffering in 100-degree heat. They are seeking asylum, not a handout. The group may be unusually large, but that seems more a result of media attention and circumstances, not some massing for attack. Smaller caravans are not uncommon at this time of year; they are simply a way for people to band together in safety. Yet some Americans will see such a large crowd of brown-skinned people and be frightened by it because they’ve become conditioned to. And Mr. Trump will recognize a chance once again to whip up the anti-immigrant fervor that has served him so well politically.

So instead of looking for solutions, the Trump White House is pulling out the thesaurus and looking to scare people beyond Halloween. Down the hall, staffers are probably devising new ways to threaten families into turning back. Separating children from their parents might have drawn outrage months ago, but some are ready to bring it back. They claim we’re facing a crisis, a national emergency.

But here’s the reality: U.S. border arrests this year are somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000. Two decades ago, they were closer to 1.5 million. Illegal immigration, whether represented by this caravan or anything else, simply isn’t in crisis by historic standards. And does anyone seriously believe that there are some kind of Middle Eastern terrorists trying to sneak in with the crowd? We can’t prove there are not, of course, but as of this writing, the president hasn’t provided one shred of evidence that there are. He’s just trying to whip up fear. Again.

The U.S. doesn’t need to rush military to the border, they need to rush the American Red Cross, Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services and on and on. Homeland Security should be talking to families to see if they can qualify for refugee protection. Meanwhile, we could be sending food and medical supplies. President Trump likes to brag that the U.S. is in the midst of record-setting prosperity. Why not use just a fraction of that wealth — a tiny bit, really — to help people who have nowhere else to turn? That might not get Republicans a lot of votes from the “build a wall” crowd in the upcoming midterm elections, but perhaps some people could sleep better at night knowing that migrants were treated as human beings and not just as political props.

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