Opinion: Hyperventilating about the caravan

A caravan of ragtag would-be immigrants is making its way through the nations of Honduras (per capita income $4,630), El Salvador (per capita income $7,540), and Guatemala (per capita income $8,000) to Mexico.

The response in the U.S. (per capita income $60,200) — panic.

Hyperventilation is seemingly the response we bring to all challenges in 2018 America. We’ve seen caravans before. There was a 1,500-person caravan that marched north just this past April. Of the band, only 400 actually reached the border and requested asylum. On average, about 22 percent of asylum requests are granted.

Now, contrary to the tone of some left-leaning coverage, it is not inhumane to say that there is no “right” to enter the United States. We don’t have an open-door policy. We have laws and procedures. One of those is asylum.

The caravan coverage on the left is all about babies in strollers and desperate women seeking refuge from criminals. And those stories are heart-wrenching. What they rarely acknowledge is that many migrants, especially able-bodied young men, are simply seeking a better life. There’s nothing immoral about that, but neither do they get priority in immigration just because they live in a miserable country.

Further, only the hopelessly naive would deny that advocates for immigrants do sometimes coach them. Our asylum law permits entry for those who have a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, sex, religion or national origin.

Clearly not all asylum requests are bogus or manufactured, but some are. Things are desperately bad in Honduras and other Central American nations. Some frantic people really do need asylum. Would you repeal our asylum laws because some make unverifiable claims?

That brings us to the right’s tone about the caravan. Congressman Matt Gaetz made the wild charge that the Hondurans were being paid by George Soros to make the trek and “storm the US border.” President Trump has been sounding the klaxon. The caravan is an “assault on our country,” that the “Democrats had something to do with” and contains “criminals” and “unknown Middle Easterners.” He threatened to cut aid to Central American nations, which the Heritage Foundation has cautioned against, since U.S. aid helps those nations fight drug traffickers and other criminals.

The right is treating these migrants as an invading army. Photos are ricocheting around social media showing Mexican police bloodied by encounters with the caravan. The photos are fake. They’re from 2012, when Mexican police and student protesters got into an altercation.

There are an estimated 7,000 footsore marchers. Over the course of the next few weeks, it will dwindle. Many will seek asylum in Mexico. Others will turn back.

Though you'd never guess it from the tone of our politics, illegal immigration is at a 40-year low. Mexicans (per capita income $17,740) once accounted for 98 percent of illegal crossings. That has now dropped to 50 percent. Mexico is getting more prosperous, which, for many reasons, including illegal immigration, is what we should want for all of Latin America. We might want to increase the number of immigration judges on the border, the better to process claims of asylum. But let's keep our perspective. As the Weekly Standard's Jim Swift reminds us, during its heyday at the turn of the 20th century, Ellis Island was admitting 5,000 immigrants per day.

A caravan of poor people marching north to signify their misery is not a national emergency. Our inability to keep our heads might be.

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