Immigrants from Central America seeking asylum prepare for bed at Travis Park Church, which is serving as a make-shift shelter, in downtown San Antonio, April 2, 2019.
Here’s a hard question for progressive advocates of refugee rights. Did Trump just get perversely lucky?
Until a few months ago, critics of Trump’s wall, his caravan obsession, and his claim of an invasion had a foolproof rejoinder. His story was a fantasy. Immigration from Mexico was notably down over the past several years.
Now, however, border crossings from refugees are way up. And Trump’s story of what draws refugees from Central America is not entirely wrong. They’ve heard from friends and relatives that parents with kids and credible accounts of persecution are sometimes allowed into America and released in short order.
None of this excuses Trump’s brutal policies of separating parents from kids. Nor could the U.S. bar such refugees without violating treaty commitments that the U.S. has entered into.
But if you follow interviews from reputable media like NPR with refugees explaining how it works, or even listen to the reasoning of immigration hard-liners from outfits like the Center for Immigration Studies, you have to appreciate that the politics just got a little harder for liberals.
Basically, it’s true that refugees come with kids, knowing that they have a decent shot at being allowed into the country and then being released by immigration authorities and melting into the population. It’s also true that some are mainly economic refugees fleeing destitution, rather than “a well-founded fear of persecution.”
On a humanitarian basis, one has to be compassionate. America can well afford to let a lot of such people in. But the politics can play into the hands of Trumpian hard-liners.
Even as we abhor Trump’s cruelty, it’s a little tricky if the debate breaks down like this:
Liberal: It’s barbaric to separate parents from kids, to set up tent cities on the border, to back up thousands of refugees onto the Mexican side of the border. And besides, our treaty commitments require us to admit and screen refugees.
Conservative: The more people we let in, the more people come. We are going to enforce the law against illegal aliens working, taking jobs from law-abiding Americans. We are also going to be a lot tougher so that we aren’t taking “economic refugees.” Americans are a compassionate people, but we can’t take in all of the world’s poor.
Liberal: Conditions along the border are brutal. Trump’s policies of denying aid to Central America will only worsen conditions and bring more flows of refugees.
Conservative: Not if we don’t let them in. And America has already given a lot of aid to Central America, and conditions are worse than ever.
Liberal: Well, a lot of the corruption and brutality in Central America is the result of U.S. policies in earlier times.
Conservative: There you go, blaming America first.
Gentle progressive reader, I’m not saying we should give up one whit of our humanitarian concern or our demands that Trump cease his brutality. But neither should we pretend that this issue will be a cakewalk for liberals in 2020.