The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The right way to respond to the migrant influx

Immigrants from Honduras are escorted back across the border by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents on June 21 in Hildalgo, Tex. (David J. Phillip/AP)

BY TOSSING OFF a tweet suggesting that any and all undocumented immigrants should be deported without benefit of a court hearing, President Trump demonstrated his cavalier contempt for constitutional due process and the rule of law. He would have Americans believe that on the chief executive’s sole say-so, the immigration system can be remade to conform to his own pinched idea of frontier justice. It can’t, because the United States is made of better stuff.

The administration’s bull-in-a-china-shop tactics to deter and dissuade border crossings by illegal immigrants aren’t working. They are failing because Hondurans, Salvadorans and others heading northward are fleeing violence and oppressive economic conditions whose peril and pain exceed that posed by the nightmarish bureaucratic strictures that Mr. Trump and his allies can devise — and whose trauma rivals even the specter of stripping children from their parents.

The right way to respond to the influx of migrants is, first, for Congress to enact legislation requiring that families be released under supervision or, if they must be detained, detained together and briefly. Second, it’s to help alleviate Central America’s misery at its source, through economic and law enforcement aid. Third, the United States should bolster the judicial machinery to cope with the problem. So far, Mr. Trump has thrown his weight behind none of the above.

To the contrary, he has pressed for tens of millions of dollars in cuts to foreign aid that now goes to the chief migrant-producing nations in Central America — reductions that, if enacted, would only worsen conditions for already impoverished and endangered people. “When countries abuse us by sending their people up — not their best — we’re not going to give any more aid to those countries. Why the hell should we?” the president said last week.

Congress has so far ignored that prescription, wisely. But the administration may have negated the benefits of the ongoing aid by its callous decisions to end temporary protected status for Salvadorans and Hondurans living in the United States. The effect will be to force tens of thousands of Central Americans, most of whom have led law-abiding and productive lives for many years in the United States, to return to countries where their prospects will be dim — and which will no longer benefit from the millions of dollars in remittances they have been sending home for decades.

Mr. Trump would be wise to support adding muscle and resources to the immigration courts, which adjudicate the cases of unauthorized immigrants. Those courts, presided over by just 350 or so judges, are drowning — their backlog has risen to more than 700,000 cases, nearly quadruple the number in 2008.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has offered legislation that would provide funding to roughly double the number of immigration judges — a reasonable response to the growing caseload and one that would help Mr. Trump achieve his own goal of accelerating deportations. Yet Mr. Trump poured scorn on the idea, declaring, without an iota of evidence, that newly hired judges would be susceptible to graft. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” the president tweeted over the weekend.

That doesn’t work in a pluralist democracy where individuals are accorded rights, including the right to assert an asylum claim, or adjudicate an immigration case, before a judge in a court of law.

Read more:

Joseph R. Biden Jr.: The border won’t be secure until Central America is

Catherine Rampell: The real hoax about the border crisis

The Post’s View: Repugnant

Jennifer Rubin: What is wrong with Republicans?

Ali Noorani: How we can follow our laws at the border — and still be a nation of grace