Fear, falsehoods and fake ‘invasion’
Clarence Page | 10/25/2018, 6 a.m.
As midterm elections approach, which frightens you most: Fear of Latin American refugees marching in a “caravan” toward our southern border? Or loss of your medical coverage for pre-existing conditions?
Such are the dominant themes that have boiled up for Republicans and Democrats, respectively, in their national contest to win control of Congress on Nov. 6.
Let’s call it the Fear Olympics. In his rallies, tweets and off-the-cuff press statements, President Trump has called the migrant caravan of asylum seekers moving north through Central America a “national emergency” and “an assault on our country” that includes “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” in its ranks and surely must receive financial backing from “the Democrats.”
Unfortunately, he fails to back up any of that with hard evidence. Blaming Democrats for the caravan is a masterstroke of brazen demagogy, given how relentlessly President Trump has fueled fears of illegal immigrants and his drive to build a costly and unnecessary wall on our border with Mexico.
And Islamic State, among other terrorist groups, surely can find less risky ways to try to sneak into this country than the long, long march of the caravan, a movement that was organized to help refugees use the strength of numbers to protect them on the dangerous journey to seek asylum in the United States.
Democrats, by contrast, have played to fears expressed by millions of Americans of losing or being denied health insurance. President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have failed so far to abolish the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. But the administration has continued to trim its funding, despite the inability of congressional Republicans to agree even among themselves on a replacement.
Surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave Democrats a gift last week when he singled out “entitlements”— well-known Washington code for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — as “the real drivers of the debt” and called for them to be adjusted to “the demographics of the future.”
In other words, Sen. McConnell seeks to cut benefits to make up for the debt that has soared in the wake of Republican tax cuts that mostly benefited upper income brackets.
But after the tax cuts failed to produce the lasting surge in the polls for which Republicans had hoped — and after the second Latin American caravan in less than a year popped up on cable news channels — President Trump eagerly turned to the illegal immigrant fear card.
He falsely accuses the Democrats of promoting economic radicalism by advocating for an “open border,” which he says would bring rampant crime and social chaos. But his central focus has been the mostly Honduran immigrants making their way north. His potential remedies sound almost as dangerous as his rhetoric. He has promised to “put troops on the border,” if necessary. That makes a great punch line for his rally crowds, but this is not a military problem.
The caravan doesn’t want to invade or fight. They seek asylum, a legal status for which they must apply and wait for possible acceptance. That’s what we should have learned from the earlier, smaller April caravan. That one started out much larger than it ended, partly because of arrests and rejections by Mexico’s authorities, acting with the Trump administration’s encouragement. The current caravan started in Honduras with about 160 migrants and has swelled to more than 7,000.
A new report by Amnesty International describes how the few hundred members of the April caravan who made it to the San Ysidro point of entry near San Diego were forced to wait on the Mexican side of the border as Customs and Border Protection agents admitted a few at a time over a course of weeks. Many were sent back when their Mexican travel documents expired while they were waiting.
The Trump administration’s policies intended to deter asylum seekers have had a lasting impact, including “zero-tolerance” prosecutions for illegal crossings, a slowdown in the processing of asylum applications and the separation of immigrant children from their parents — a highly controversial affront to human rights that the administration is considering reviving in a modified form.
All of these problems could and should be worked out sensibly in our political system if we can survive the nonsense of President Trump’s “scare-avan” campaign. For me, Election Day cannot come soon enough.