Over the last few days Trump has been tweeting and fuming over a caravan of migrants crossing through Mexico. Some, not all, may try to gain access to the United States, seeking asylum from economic marginalization and political violence in Central America. Nearly 80% of the 1,200 caravan participants are from Honduras.
Caravans have been common in recent years, as people travel in larger groups to avoid trouble with gangs in Central America and Mexico. Until this year, these caravans gained little notice in the United States. But Trump is in trouble with scandals and desperate for a legislative victory. In this environment, he seems to be turning to what got him to the White House: Exaggerate, mislead, and outright lie about some facet of immigration law, or immigrants themselves, to rally support. Referencing the caravan, Trump is renewing calls for border wall funding, and has declared there will be no deal on DACA. In a tweet Sunday, Trump declared:
Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. “Caravans” coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!
Yesterday, Trump went even further, declaring that the U.S. would begin using the military to police the border. Quoted in the New York Times, Trump said:
We have very bad laws for our border, and we are going to be doing some things — I’ve been speaking with General Mattis — we’re going to be doing things militarily...Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.
Trump’s latest tirade is political theater of the sort we’ve come to expect. Bombastic declarations that clutter the political space for compromise, all with the aim of getting a “deal.” Withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA, sending troops to the border, and refusing to bargain on DACA - when it was just a few weeks ago he encouraged such a bargain in exchange for funding for the wall and other reductions in immigration - are all on the surface losing propositions. Clearly he is trying to shake things up to force the hands of congress, while giving red meat to his Fox-News-watching supporters.
Along the southern border, crossings are at a near 40 year low. The last four administrations have built a legal framework on immigration that has granted enormous authority to ICE to arrest, detain, and deport millions of people. Far from being hamstrung, ICE has been given near free rein along the border. Federal prosecutors and judges are now forced to spend half of their caseloads prosecuting illegal entry and reentry violations, in an unnecessary dragnet that violates the most basic tenets of due process.
The only crisis in immigration right now is the inhumane treatment being meted out against people fleeing violence and economic collapse. While Trump’s rhetoric is theatrical, the results of his ongoing war on migrants is very real. We are facing a human rights crisis in this country of enormous proportions. Trump wants to make it worse. Congress will likely go along in some measure. We need to stop them.