President Donald Trump tweeted the other day that unless our “great law enforcement professionals” are “ALLOWED TO DO THEIR JOB,” we’ll face “bedlam, chaos, injury, and death” from the thousands of migrants who have amassed at the southern border in an attempt to gain asylum in the United States.
On Sunday, we got bedlam, chaos and injury, all right, when some of the migrants approached the border. Reports about exactly what happened vary — some say they were, at least initially, trying to negotiate with U.S. authorities who had prevented their entry; some number of them attempted to scale the fence or otherwise gain entry when they found the border crossing closed; and at least a few reportedly threw bottles and rocks at the U.S. border patrol officials on the other side.
What happened next is not in dispute. The migrants were treated like an invading army — border patrol agents fired tear gas canisters into Mexico. Only a few dozen of the migrants made it across the border, where they were arrested, but the gas choked all those on the other side — men, women and children alike, whether they were protesting peacefully, throwing rocks or caught up as bystanders.
It is perfectly legal for a resident of another country to seek asylum in the United States if they face persecution in their home country. Some of the thousands who have spent months walking northward from Central America may meet the legal standard to stay here, some may not, but this is not a new issue. We have long had laws and procedures in place to evaluate such claims, and we have long experience with large groups of migrants banding together for the journey north. But since before the midterm election, President Trump has been treating the current “caravan” like it was an invading army. At various times, he and members of his administration have claimed, with no evidence whatsoever, that it contained terrorists, and he continues to imply that it comes with the encouragement of foreign governments seeking to dump criminals on the United States.
The reality is that the caravan is made up of people seeking safety, security, economic opportunity and the rule of law. They are desperate people who have undertaken hardships and risks that the rest of us can’t begin to contemplate, and they have done so, in many cases, with their children by their sides. These are not predators or invaders. They are families seeking what we take for granted.
President Trump seems to think he can outsource the problem to Mexico. His administration is reportedly in negotiations with that of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to keep the migrants in Mexico while their asylum claims are considered. How that would work is anyone’s guess, but the American president seems far less concerned with the details than with making a show of keeping would-be Latin American immigrants out.
The reality is that Mexico lacks the resources to handle the more than 8,000 people now gathered at the border near San Diego. About 5,000 of them are in Tijuana, mainly packed into an outdoor sports complex that lacks the necessary sanitation and other facilities. Health conditions there are reportedly deteriorating, and the city’s mayor, Juan Manuel Gastelum, has declared a humanitarian crisis. He is seeking help from the United Nations as neither the U.S. nor Mexican governments is stepping in to help in any meaningful way.
President Trump insists that he will not allow any of the migrants to enter the United States while their asylum claims are being considered and threatens to close the border altogether if that’s what it takes. “There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!” he wrote on Sunday. But the only costly and dangerous situation here is the one of his own making. It is costly and dangerous in terms of human life and the United States’ standing in the world. The president has spent months conjuring a threat from these migrants, but the images coming from the border tell an entirely different story. What will the world believe, Mr. Trump’s tweets or their own eyes?