DRAMATIC IMAGES of about 200 Central Americans who arrived Sunday at the Mexican frontier near San Diego after traveling north in a caravan through Mexico are fodder for President Trump’s crusade to frighten Americans into thinking that borders are broken and immigration is out of control. In fact, very few of those migrants — a few dozen, perhaps — are likely to be granted asylum; many or most will be detained and ultimately deported.
It’s easy to lose track of the facts amid the administration’s anti-immigration rhetoric — the exaggerated talk about so-called sanctuary cities (in which immigrant criminals are prosecuted and punished as they are anywhere else); catch-and-release (the policy by which some migrants are allowed to live legally in the United States as they pursue asylum claims); and, yes, the wall, the president’s crowd-pleasing panacea.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that illegal entry, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions along the southwest border, remains near its lowest point in decades, despite a recent surge. To take this March as an example: Apprehensions along the Mexican border more than doubled from a year earlier, when they plummeted following Mr. Trump’s inauguration, but they remained less than half the level of a decade ago and an even smaller fraction compared with apprehensions in the years before that.
The United States has a legitimate interest in border security and in deterring Central American and Mexican migrants from making the risky trip north. It is also legally obligated, under international and U.S. laws, to accept asylum seekers fleeing upheaval and threats in their home countries.
It’s fair to warn migrants of the risks they face from human traffickers and other criminals along the northward trek, and of their long odds in gaining asylum once in the United States. It’s fair to judge asylum seekers on the merits of their circumstances and to deport those whose claims don’t measure up. It’s fair to beef up border security, as successive presidents have done since Sept. 11, 2001.
Increasingly, though, the Trump administration has gone further by separating migrant parents and their children. In court papers filed last week, a Mexican woman referred to as “Ms. G.” said her 6-year-old daughter, who is blind, and 4-year-old son had been removed from her shortly after they entered the country at the beginning of March. A Honduran mother identified as Miran said U.S. agents took away her toddler son, not yet 2, when they entered the country in February. In both cases, mothers and their children were detained in separate facilities even after presenting birth certificates, and, in Miran’s case, after a preliminary finding that she faced “credible fear” of returning to her home country. “I was going crazy wondering what had happened with my son,” Miran said in an affidavit. The two remain separated.
Tearing apart families is a despicable means of deterrence that will traumatize children and do far more to tarnish America’s image than a couple of hundred migrants waving flags at the border.
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