Here are a few things to keep in mind as we await the arrival of a much-publicized caravan of several thousand Central Americans at the U.S.-Mexico border.
- The group is a hodgepodge. There are refugees fleeing violence, economic migrants looking for jobs, deported immigrants trying to return, people aiming to reconnect with family and friends in the United States, and other categories yet to be defined. We can’t treat them all the same. Some deserve a shot at staying in the United States, while others will have to go home.
- This is not an “invasion” — in any way, shape, or form. It’s dishonest and inappropriate to say otherwise. An invasion is where people storm the gates because they want to do you harm. These people want to do your chores. An invasion is where people want to take things from you. These people are doers, optimists, and risk-takers who have a lot to contribute to whichever country takes them in.
- Calling it an invasion is also dangerous, because it encourages people to go to extreme lengths to ward off a non-existent threat. Witness the tragedy in Pittsburgh where 11 people were gunned down in a synagogue by an anti-Semite with an AR-15 assault weapon. Judging by the social media postings of the suspect, Robert Bowers apparently got it into his mind that a local Jewish group that helps resettle refugees were helping “bring invaders that kill our people.” Bowers wrote, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
- Speaking of dangerous. President Trump is about to make a bad situation much worse by sending as much as 15,000 U.S. military troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to hold off the intruders. Imagine thousands of armed soldiers facing off against women cradling babies. A million things could go wrong, and something likely will.
- Think about everything that went wrong recently when Mexican law enforcement officers in riot gear tried in vain to keep the caravan from crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. Tear gas enveloped the crowd. Police officers were hurt. And at least one member of the caravan died when a rubber bullet struck him in the head.
- It was wasted energy for Republicans to spend weeks speculating about who paid the freight for the caravan. Instead of figuring out why these people are coming, or how to stop future waves, conservatives obsessed over the logistics of moving thousands of all those people. They suggested the whole thing was a plot, organized by left-wing activists to embarrass Trump. That got them nowhere.
- Despite efforts by the Trump administration to get Mexico to do its dirty work, our southern neighbor was never going to be motivated to help a U.S. president who has treated their country and their people like pinatas since he first entered the arena. That being the case, the Mexicans were not about to force the issue when the vast majority of the people in the caravan refused an offer of asylum in Mexico and opted to press ahead to the United States.
- It is also not a smart idea for Trump to threaten to withhold U.S. economic aid from the three countries that are sending most of these people — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These countries have failing economies, and they’re facing enormous challenges as they confront plagues such as gang violence and institutional corruption. If we hurt these countries’ economies even more, or undermine their ability to fight off the forces that would further destabilize them, we could have failed states and rogue regimes at our backdoor. That would be a disaster.
- While conservatives like to talk about those mythical “magnets” that are supposedly drawing the caravan to the United States — from welfare to free education to health care to changes in the law that could allow them to stay — that is not what is going on here. Whether we’re talking about refugees from Central America, or economic migrants from Mexico, people come for one reason: they know the way. They’ve either been here before or their family or friends are already here. They’re just continuing the cycle.
- Trump thinks the caravan will be a winning issue for Republican candidates in next week’s midterm elections because he assumes that voters will be reluctant to elect Democrats who they perceive as soft on border security. But it looks more like a headache for whatever party is in charge of the executive branch which is entrusted with securing the border. That’s the GOP.
What a mess. We need a rational, fair, and humane solution. Finding it will be tough as long as we’re blinded by emotion, fear, and racism. First, let’s get those things under control. Then we can go from there.
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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