Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 25, 2018

Targeting the caravan of immigrants headed slowly 1,000 miles or so to our Southern border seems a brilliant choice for President Trump and Republican candidates to bring out their voters. It is an appeal to emotions, not subject to reason, and to fears of hordes of unwanted people coming for our jobs and our well-being.

For proponents of a Wall, this is a perfect photo op. Toss in some insulting remarks about Democrats for prompting the caravan (not true), or that the marchers swelling to more than 10,000 include Middle Eastern terrorists and drug couriers (What? Based on what?), and you have perfection in partisan politics just before an important mid-term election. Historically, about 5% may have some kind of criminal record, and less than 1% are Mideastern.

The president, who said he has enough evidence of the wrong people headed to the border to satisfy himself, has threatened or promised to send military troops to the border, despite whatever restrictions there may be about the use of troops in border work, and to cancel trade deals with Mexico unless it acts more forcefully to stop it all.

Indeed, even as Vice President Mike Pence reported on a call with the Honduran president that Venezuela leftists had financed some of the marchers to leave Honduras, the president interrupted on camera to add — “and the Democrats?” — to which Pence was left simply shrugging in response.

The thing that makes no sense to me, however, is that once the column arrives in Tijuana or El Paso or anywhere in between, the thousands still need to come across one at a time to be told “no entry.” In other words, from where I sit, I don’t see a threat here, Wall or no Wall.

These people will enter long enough to start requests for asylum, and then face rejection and possible detention or deportation, one after another. That’s the process, and how the system has been set up to work.

With far lowered asylum caps in place, perhaps a handful of immigrants will be all who get through. For the rest, they face family separations, jail time, hunger and illness and simple rejection both from the United States and, likely, Mexico.

“Where’s the beef?” went that television political ad from decades ago. If the system is so strong and so limited, where is Trump suggesting that these people are going to go?

It seems totally reasonable, for example, that we should be aiming to fix what’s going wrong in Honduras that would force thousands of people to walk a thousand miles through dangerous paths to try to better themselves. As a Washington Post editorial outlined yesterday, rather than eliminate aid to Honduras, it makes a lot more sense to add to aid, working with Honduran officials to target specific security and poverty goals, rather than encouraging more Hondurans to leave. We should be enabling U.S. consulate officers to take in asylum requests in Honduras rather than having a build-up at the border. In short, we should be working to keep people in Honduras rather than railing at hungry people who want to leave.

The friends with whom I have informally sought opinion about all this have cautioned me against gnawing on this logic bone, and not to take any of it literally or even seriously. It’s all a campaign ploy, they say, with a jaundiced look at the recent, unsubstantiated presidential two years.

Yet, where policy is concerned rather than just political noise, where people can actually get hurt, where families seem to be facing the crunch of poverty and violence at home or a xenophobic rejection from the United States that they have romanticized, my conscience just won’t let me walk away.

The claims that the president is making on his non-stop campaign rally in the short time before the elections are simply filled with falsehoods meant to build fear.

Meanwhile, there are actual, verifiable fears out there that are going relatively untouched, ranging from the wild over-prescription and distribution of opioids to the shutdown of health care for serious illnesses at affordable prices to North Korean nuclear weapons to the ravages we are seeing on the increase as the result of Climate Change.

I don’t want to make more of caravan politics than I must, but the broadside attack is a sure reflection of the culture wars that divide us and a representation of the singular issues that threaten an election that could easily re-confirm the dominance of a minority of the country. Trump is appealing brilliantly to those parts of the country that would gladly spend much more attention on a giant lottery drawing than our future as a country.

The caravan perfectly captures the desire for slogans and easy, big lies over reasoned solutions.