Migrants run from tear gas launched by U.S. agents, amid photojournalists covering the Mexico-U.S. border, after a group of migrants got past Mexican police at the Chaparral crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)
Opinion writer

Trump administration scandals surely must be examined by the new Democratic-controlled House, which intends to take its constitutional obligations seriously, in contrast with the GOP House majority. But congressional oversight should be about more than scandals: Equally important is to probe the policy disasters (as numerous as the ethical lapses), both to hold the executive branch accountable and to help formulate appropriate legislation. The border situation is a prime example.

The Post reports:

A day after U.S. agents fired tear gas to repel migrants breaking through the border fence in Southern California, Homeland Security officials defended the use of force and their decision to close the country’s busiest port of entry, saying they expect additional confrontations and shutdowns.

Facing dismal conditions in Mexico and long waits for the chance to request asylum in the United States, thousands of Central American migrants are becoming more agitated, and officials see no quick resolution to the tensions that erupted Sunday. …

On Monday, critics of the Trump administration denounced border agents’ use of force on groups that included families with children, but U.S. officials praised what they called “quick and effective action” against crowds of stone-slinging young men who pried open the border fence at multiple locations to squeeze through.

Like the family separation debacle, this is a crisis of the Trump administration’s own making. Sending the military (with threats to use force on civilians), threatening to “close the border” and attempting to issue a blanket denial of asylum (halted by the courts) have all created a sense of panic:

The migrants who participated in Sunday’s border rush were a minority among the 5,000 or so Central Americans who have arrived in caravan groups to Tijuana in recent weeks hoping to enter the United States. Critics of the administration’s hard-line response have insisted that members of the caravan groups would exercise their legal right to seek asylum at U.S. border crossings. But with more than 4,000 people on a wait list to approach the border crossing, and U.S. immigration authorities insisting that they have the capacity to process just 60 to 100 asylum seekers per day, frustration has been welling at the camp where migrants are sleeping in tents and enduring long lines for food.

Instead of sending troops and making unconstitutional threats, the Trump administration should be dispatching an army of judges to consider the asylum applications — and working with Central American governments to address the conditions that force their citizens to flee.

Rather than accept responsibility for their own bad decision-making, the Trump administration falsely accuses the Obama administration of practicing the same inhumane family separation policy. (The Post’s fact checkers find: “It’s not the first time [President] Trump tries to minimize the scope of his family separations at the border by claiming that President Barack Obama had the same policy. This claim and its variations have been roundly debunked. We gave them Four Pinocchios in June. … There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions taken by the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.”)

That Trump would blame Democrats for not fixing the border problem at a time Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress is laughable. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pointed out this weekend, Trump “gut punched” a bipartisan effort to combine border security with relief for “dreamers.” (“We have tried to negotiate with him but he won’t take yes for an answer,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “You look at this, we tried to negotiate on the dreamers, and that was led by reasonable Republicans Mike Rounds, a senator from South Dakota, and Johnny Isakson, the senator from Georgia. I was in that group, a small group of us that were working to find a way out with border money as well as making sure that we protected the dreamers, something a vast majority of Americans supported.”)

A full congressional investigation is essential to answer the most basic questions:

  • Who issued the zero-tolerance policy, and who approved it?
  • What discussion/consideration of the ensuing family separations was undertaken?
  • What basis is there for the administration’s assertions that there are “Middle Eastern” people and criminals in the caravan? (“It has almost nothing but supposition to show the public. Many of the caravan members are women and children fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking economic opportunity in the United States. They hardly fit Trump’s description of ‘very tough people’ rushing the border.”)
  • Where are the “stone-cold criminals” Trump keeps claiming are part of the caravan, and why wouldn’t they be rejected through the normal asylum evaluation process?
  • Against whom did U.S. agents lob tear gas?

Aside from debunking a host of false claims by the Trump administration and anti-immigrant zealots, the hearings ideally should produce legislation that at a bare minimum permanently bans family separations, allocates funds for border security and for immigration judges (even Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, supports that), gives protection to the dreamers and supports aid to Central American countries from which migrants are fleeing.

In short, Congress needs to do its job, instead of acting as a cheerleader for Trump’s racist, hysterical rhetoric.

Read more by Jennifer Rubin:

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