When a caravan of Central American families seeking asylum in the United States was almost a thousand miles away, President Donald Trump called it a “national emergency” on Twitter and ordered more than 5,000 troops to protect the border.
But by the time the first group of migrants arrived at the port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, near San Diego, a few days before Thanksgiving, the troops were told to pack up and leave.
What a difference an election makes.
The president’s warnings of invading terrorists, disease, “Middle Easterners” and “criminal aliens” — all, according to Trump, thanks to the “open borders” Democrats — turned out mostly to be hype, just as the president’s skeptical critics had predicted.
We saw similar fear-mongering from the president in April, as another migrant caravan started out with about 1,500 people in southern Mexico but dwindled to a few hundred by the time it reached the California border. Trump’s tireless fear-mongering this time still failed to prevent his party’s loss of its majority in the House of Representatives.
So our troops, including National Guard and regular Army, are being brought home.
His immigration policy suffered a further setback Nov. 19 when a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama temporarily blocked a new Trump rule that bars asylum for immigrants who enter the United States outside of a legal checkpoint.
Trump signed the rule by proclamation on Nov. 9, invoking national security powers in response to the approaching caravan, and let it go into effect immediately without the customary period for public comment.
Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said that the policy signed by the president “irreconcilably conflicts” with immigration law and the “expressed intent of Congress.”
“Whatever the scope of the president’s authority,” the judge wrote, “he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Tigar wrote in his order.
Team Trump vows to fight for the temporarily blocked rule in court. But even if they eventually win, it will take more than border protection and immigration enforcement to end the crisis that has led to a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum requests.
For that we must turn to the root causes of the crisis in the countries where the caravans originate, mainly the Northern Triangle countries of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Back in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan’s administration opposed leftists fighting for power in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Reagan warned that without U.S. intervention, events in Central America could move “chaos and anarchy toward the American border,” including “hundreds of thousands of refugees” seeking “entry into our country.”
That day appears to have arrived. After an unexpected surge of 68,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America made headlines in 2014, the Obama administration worked with Congress and leaders in the Northern Triangle and in 2016 provided $750 million to support anti-corruption measures and development funds in the region.
Although Team Obama reported measurable progress, including a drop in Honduras’ murder rate by a third, Team Trump cut aid to the Northern Triangle by almost 20 percent to $615 million this year — and the president wants to cut even more.
But further reductions in aid programs without regard to their effectiveness would invite more disasters in countries already suffering from the biggest drivers of migration: crime, violence, poverty, corruption and a lack of economic opportunity.
A wall to keep migrants out of this country would be a poor substitute for policies that would help them to stay in their own.
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Writes for Tribune Content Agency.