Trump, the Caravan Stopper

Terry H. Schwadron

May 1, 2018

Well, that feared Caravan of marauding invaders has finally reached our southern border in Tijuana. I hope that President Trump thinks that activating 2,000 trained National Guardsmen in four states to buttress the thousands of U.S. border agents are sufficient to repel 150 women, children and families with stories of hopelessness, hunger and gang violence against them.

There is a real gap here in the need for solution for a problem that just doesn’t rise to the level of spite and militaristic strength that the President’s crew is fanning.

The plan of the Caravan folks, mostly poor victims of economic and physical abuse in their native Honduras, is to line up in an orderly fashion and to file forms seeking asylum in the United States. The stories of individuals who have made the trek across Mexico are filled with pathos; they cry for empathy, rather than the kind of U.S. stomping words that have filled the air in rallies by and for the president. The television pictures of people sleeping on the concrete outside the border buildings where physical application is required raise new questions about what exact threat we see from these particular individuals.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the caravan “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system.”

Perhaps the better response by the Department of Homeland Security would have been to dispatch a few more bureaucrats to handle the paperwork. The asylum process is so much red tape that it will take days to fill out, months or longer to complete with interviews, and it is likely to split families for the duration in separate holding facilities in different states.

The rules specify that economic reasons alone are not sufficient to qualify for asylum. Indeed, they will need some kind of documentary proof of physical violence or threats, which is less than likely, and we can expect that through bureaucracy alone, most of these 150 folks will be rebuffed and sent away to wander in search of a new, stateless life. To qualify for asylum, applicants must prove they have been persecuted or fear persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular group. People who request protection at a United States entry point must be referred to an asylum officer for a screening interview, and possibly a appearance before an immigration judge.

In recent years, there have been other Caravans with people traveling together for safety and, frankly, as a PR event. This year, Trump bit on the bait, and has made it a national crisis.

The only problem is that there is no crisis. Instead, both legal and illegal immigration numbers have been falling as Trump has made clear that the United States is becoming officially less gracious to those not born here. Thus the answer is a Wall, and paramilitary border patrols, or overly broad Travel Bans or more difficult entry tests for non-visa waiver nations or a smoldering fear for anyone from a majority Muslim nation.

The only thing that is clear about the whole mess is that the Caravan — and the larger immigration issue — has graduated from actual problem to Trump campaign messaging. Anti-immigrant feelings clearly appeal to those seeking scapegoats for changing economies that increasingly are leaving a wide segment of American manufacturing workers, in particular, behind.

Trump’s broadsides against immigration, whether legal or illegal, is an amalgam of security concern about terrorism, a desire to stem drug imports and fulfillment of some far-flung notion of a better past when American plants hired American workers first and only. Indeed, Trump’s promises of better job growth for lost industries like coal mining depend on eliminating any competition for manual and semi-skilled labor. But every study, interview and common-sense conclusion is that Americans are not lining up for chicken feather-plucking jobs and more than they are for seasonal, migrant agricultural jobs.

It’s why Trump himself seeks specialized visas for foreigners to work at his Mar-o-Lago resort in Florida, or at the family-owned vineyards in Virginia.

Trump complained that legal aid lawyers were advising Caravan members about what to say and how to present their asylum complaints, as if there is something wrong about doing so. In his own life, Trump’s legal issues arise, in part, from his refusal to actually listen to the many lawyers he has surrounding him before he dismisses them.

I watched 60 Minutesthis week about introduction and testing for new approaches to cancer treatments based on gene repair. Everyone in the story had been an immigrant to this country. Everyone I know has an immigration story; everyone Trump knows, including his wife/wives, has an immigration story.

Yet he relies on the use of immigration images as scapegoats for pockets of underperformance in the economy, as the answer to frustration. The same thing happened in the 1930s in Germany, and in Bosnia, and in Rwanda and in other places where one population’s hopes and dreams were pit against another’s.

We do have lots of issues in immigration.

The Caravan story reminds us that it is a shame is that we can’t look them honestly and try to come up with appropriate solutions.

WASHINGTON HUMOR: Each year, the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner seems to produce hand-wringing over the level of satire and parody from the invited comic who speaks. If you don’t like the results, don’t hire a comic. Better yet, don’t have a dinner that has outgrown its purpose and looks ridiculous to have journalists at a social gathering with their government subjects. Just don’t go.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer