Chaos on the U.S.-Mexico border
Border Patrol agents used tear gas to repel about 500 migrants who stormed a border crossing near San Diego this week as President Trump moved to restrict their ability to claim asylum in the U.S. The chaos ensued after 7,400 members of a caravan that departed Central America on Oct. 19 began massing in Tijuana, near the San Ysidro Port of Entry to the U.S. With only about 60 asylum claims being processed daily and food scarce in their tent city on the Mexican side, a group of frustrated migrants marched on the border barriers to demand entry. When they were blocked by Mexican federal police, scuffling broke out, and some migrants scaled the wall while others pried holes in fences and sprinted through traffic. Some hurled rocks and bottles at border agents, four of whom were struck, although none was seriously injured. Border agents fired volleys of tear gas over the border to drive the migrants back, with women and children caught in the choking fumes. “We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more,” said Ana Zuniga, a 23-year-old from Honduras, who was carrying her 3-year-old daughter.
Democrats and immigrant rights groups condemned the Trump administration’s handling of the situation, accusing border agents of overkill. “These children are barefoot, in diapers, choking on tear gas,” said California Gov.–elect Gavin Newsom. “That’s not my America.” Trump doubled down, threatening to close the border with Mexico “permanently” and defending the use of tear gas, which was used about once a month by border agents during the Obama administration. “They were being rushed by some very tough people,” Trump said. “Nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.”
The Trump administration is currently negotiating with incoming Mexican President–elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to house migrants in Mexico while they await U.S. asylum hearings. This plan could end so-called catch-and-release policies that Trump says allow migrants to disappear into the country, rather than show up for their hearings. (See Best Columns: International.)
What the editorials said
“The officers were right to repel the crowds,” said The Wall Street Journal. Our country “can’t tolerate migrants who rush the border or assault officers with rocks.” The tragedy is that the migrants’ “lawlessness” will erode “support for legal asylum in the U.S.” Germany should serve as “a cautionary tale.” Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed a million Middle Eastern migrants to her country in 2015—but social problems caused by the massive influx sparked “a political backlash that has abetted the far right” and turned many Europeans against accepting any additional refugees.
Yes, we must defend our borders, said the New York Daily News, but we must also defend “America’s principles.” Under U.S. and international law, people who make a credible claim that they face persecution and violence at home can apply for asylum. If Trump weren’t promoting “fever dreams of an ongoing invasion” to stir up his base, he wouldn’t send troops to the border—he’d send hundreds of asylum officers and immigration judges to expedite claims.
What the columnists said
The Trump administration is responsible for this mess, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Last year, Trump listened to anti-immigration hard-liners and rejected a bipartisan compromise that would have included $25 billion for increased border security in exchange for legal protection for “Dreamers” already in the U.S. Now House Democrats should launch an investigation of this administration’s failed, incoherent border policy. Who issued the family-separation policy? Are there really Middle Eastern terrorists and “stone-cold criminals” in the caravan, as Trump contends? It’s time to debunk Trump’s “racist, hysterical rhetoric.”
Actually, Trump was at least half-right about the caravan—while the media was wrong, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Trump’s critics scoffed at his description of the migrants as “an invasion”—but we’ve just seen hundreds try to scale fences. The “overwhelming majority” of these migrants are not criminals and “just want a better life.” But we have a right to demand “an orderly, lawful process,” and to limit how many people we accept. The reality is that most of these migrants do not qualify for asylum under U.S. law, said John Daniel Davidson in TheFederalist.com. Of the nearly 64,000 applications heard in court in 2016, less than 14 percent were approved. Most Central American migrants are not fleeing political oppression; “for them, claiming asylum is simply a way to gain entry to the U.S.” where they can “live and work” while their cases go on for years.
In the short term, said Elvia Diaz in The Arizona Republic, the border chaos “couldn’t have played out better for Donald Trump.” He got the images he wants, of young men defying authorities and trying to climb over border barriers. Now Trump gets to say, See, I told you so—and “just in time for a border wall funding fight.” By losing patience and trying to gain entry illegally, “the migrants lost. Trump won—at least for now.”
President Trump hardened his demand for $5 billion to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall—and is threatening a partial government shutdown if he doesn’t get it, said Erica Werner and Damian Paletta in WashingtonPost.com. The ultimatum is part of ongoing negotiations to fund several government agencies by Dec. 7. “We desperately need a wall,” Trump said. Pictures of migrants climbing fences “are very bad for the Democrats,” he said. Republicans control both congressional chambers until January, when Democrats will have a House majority. Democrats, so far, have “rejected” Trump’s demand for $5 billion, and are offering to authorize $1.6 billion. If he can’t get enough votes, Trump said, he might settle for beefing up border barriers. “You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing. There are potential ways I can do it.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Newscom, Getty (2) ■