Even for a president to whom no issue is immune to overreaction, this latest temper-tantrum was an overreach; the last such migrant caravan from Honduras, in April, mostly dissolved before it reached the U.S. border. Still, Mr. Trump is delighted at the chance of deploying this latest migration as a cudgel. “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” he tweeted Wednesday.
A more serious concern is the much broader flow of family migrants from Central America — mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — that has lately become a flood at segments along the frontier in Texas and Arizona. As The Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey reported, Border Patrol agents arrested more than 16,000 migrants in family units in September, a record monthly tally. Most, citing a fear of returning to their home countries, apply for asylum in this country and are released pending an immigration court date.
The September numbers have triggered alarms in Washington, and rightly so; it is in no one’s interest — not the United States’, and not Central American countries’ — to countenance a northward deluge of parents and children. However, the response under consideration by the administration, which amounts to a fresh push to break up families , is no solution. It would be another manufactured humanitarian calamity that would further deplete U.S. prestige while doing nothing to address the epidemic of violence driving Central Americans to leave their homes.
Family separation 2.0, as conceived by the White House, would present migrant parents with what officials call a “binary choice.” They could remain with their children in detention for months or years — the waiting period reflects the huge backlog in immigration cases — or give them up to the government, which would place them in shelters until other relatives or guardians could seek custody. Aside from the fact that there is nothing approaching the capacity in existing detention centers to absorb even a reduced flow of family migrants, the administration’s blueprint may not be legal. As a deterrent, it is also unlikely to work. Fiscal year 2018’s record number of family members detained along the southwestern border coincided with the uproar over family separations last spring.
It’s worth bearing in mind that while arrests of families have soared, the overall number of apprehensions in the past year, at just under 400,000, is still among the lowest in the past 45 years. It’s also worth remembering that Congress would have happily given Mr. Trump a deal, allowing him to build his wall in exchange for legal status for “dreamers,” immigrants brought here as children who are American in all but their documents. As he inflames his base on the campaign trail, we’re seeing why the president wouldn’t take yes for an answer.