Originally published by The NY Times
Trying to stop immigrants as the Trump administration is doing — unilaterally, at the border and with tear gas and troops — is a sign of only one thing: failure.
In fact, the administration’s response to the migrant caravan from Central America that recently arrived at the border with Mexico highlights much of what is wrong with American politics and immigration policy today.
These migrants, regardless of their reasons for coming, are being exploited and victimized at both ends of their journey: at home by street gangs, human traffickers and major criminal organizations, and in the United States by politicians seeking political gain.
Given the situation at the border, there is an urgent need to deploy practical solutions to the challenges of migration with the clear goal of establishing safe, orderly and legal migration.
This means that the United States must stay true to its national interests, history, values and legal obligations in the ways it handles people seeking asylum. That does not mean letting in every petitioner. Economic migrants do not qualify for asylum; they should understand that, for them, the perilous journey north will ultimately be a fruitless one.
But being scrupulously selective about asylum requests does not mean we should be firing tear gas at families at the border, wastefully deploying troops to string concertina wire as cameras roll, ignoring our historical role as a haven for the persecuted or manufacturing a crisis for political purposes.
Instead, the United States and its partners in the region need to address the governmental dysfunction in Central America that is driving so many desperate people to embark on incredibly dangerous journeys in search of a better, more secure life.
In the short term, this means radically increasing the United States’ capacity to adjudicate asylum claims. The slow-walking of processing asylum claims, and the huge backlog of cases at ports of entry, are only adding to tensions in the region. More judges and Customs and Border Protection officers, not more troops, should be sent to the border to speed up the processing of claims.
The United States also needs to expand its refugee programs in the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — so that people can apply for refugee status while still in their home countries.
The United States must also work with international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration as well as the Mexican government to provide shelter and food to migrants on Mexico’s southern border. The Mexican government has said that Central American migrants in that area, as well as near the United States-Mexico border, can apply for Mexican work permits.
At the same time, the United States should increase its funding to and engagement with United Nations refugee agency to quickly expand Mexico’s ability to process refugee and asylum claims. This would be a major change for the Trump administration, which has been hesitant to work with many international organizations and pulled out from in the United Nations-brokered Global Compact on Migration before it was even finalized.
Longer-term work is also essential to break the cycles of lawlessness and economic deprivation fueling migration.
The United States should not be threatening to curtail assistance to the Northern Triangle countries, as President Trump has done. Instead, it should be providing additional assistance focused on job creation and strengthening anti-gang and violence prevention programs. Effective but small-scale local programs to combat these problems already exist — they should be expanded so their impact is felt across the region.
The president-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will take office on Saturday, has spoken of his country playing a more active role in economic development in the Northern Triangle. The United States should leverage that interest to the fullest extent possible.
Any effort to promote more stable, sustainable societies in the Northern Triangle must also include the region’s private sector. It should be pressed to contribute financially to American aid packages. And the United States should support efforts to root out corruption that is often fueled by predatory corporate interests.
Instead of tough talk and empty gestures, it is time for the United States to provide leadership based on both our national interests and our values. If it is smart and open to working with others, the administration can manage the flow of migrants humanely and efficiently. If it is not, this crisis will only get worse.