As usual, today is no different than any other day in Trumpland. So much is going on that it is hard to decide what outlandish topic to focus on given the plethora of screw ups that the administration is embroiled in this week. And it’s only Wednesday. Certainly, the tear gassing of migrants at the Tijuana border stands out as one of the more inhumane and unnecessary events to happen in the last couple of days. Leave it to Trump’s minions to make the worst possible call when it would have been so much easier to let well enough alone and have done the more sensible thing; but no, the border patrol officers on the ground had to decide tear gassing would be a wise and prudent choice. Never mind that there were mothers with children in diapers spread throughout the crowd who would invariably become the focus of the media. Optics people. Think optics.
What I found surprising and not a little disturbing is that the use of tear gas and pepper spray is a policy that dates back to the Obama administration.
In a statement sent to Newsweek on Tuesday, the CBP said its personnel have been using tear gas, or 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), since 2010, deploying the substance a total of 126 times since fiscal year 2012.
Under President Donald Trump, CBP’s use of the substance has hit a seven-year record high, with the agency deploying the substance a total of 29 times in fiscal year 2018, which ended on September 30, 2018, according to the agency’s data. Newsweek
So, why the brouhaha surrounding Sunday’s tear gassing? Typically, the Orange One in his skewed logic, even when he didn’t have to, lied. When asked directly about the incident, he couldn’t help himself.
“Is it OK to use tear gas on children?” one reporter asked, according to CNN.
“We didn’t,” Trump replied. “We don’t use it on children.” Salon
Photographs and video images tell another story. Women with children in diapers can be seen running from clouds of tear gas and pepper spray as their children cry in horror of the events going on around them. Trump even went so far (without a hint of irony in his choice of words) as to say some of the women who had children with them were “grabbers”. People, he claimed without evidence, who kidnapped children and pretended to be their mothers to better enhance their case when confronting border patrol agents and asylum judges. Homeland Security secretary Kristjen Nielsen had doubled down earlier on Trump’s claim, again without evidence, when she said,
“It appears in some cases that the limited number of women and children in the caravan are being used by the organizers as ‘human shields’ when they confront law enforcement,” she said in a statement. “They are being put at risk by the caravan organizers as we saw at the Mexico-Guatemala border. This is putting vulnerable people in harms way.” WaPo
Granted, something went terribly wrong at the Tijuana border Sunday afternoon, and a mob of angry migrants did rush the border in the hope of getting into the United States illegally. However, these were unarmed men, women and children rushing headlong into concertina wire, barricades and armed border agents in riot gear. Border agents closed down the border at that time. Was their attempt foolhardy? Of course, but at this point the anger and frustration is palpable among those there legitimately seeking asylum from the horrors they fled in their homelands.
The problem is complicated by the fact that only 40 to 100 asylum seekers are able to appear before immigration judges per day. Considering estimates of the number of caravan migrants is somewhere around 7,000, plus many others who were already in Tijuana before they arrived, the average asylum seeker is looking at months of waiting before they even get the chance to plead their cases. They then face months and possibly years before their case is adjudicated when they are either given asylum or rejected.
It is important to understand that the number of asylum seekers is a problem worldwide and getting worse in the United States. A recent report by the UN Refugee Agency states,
. . . there were fewer new claims for asylum worldwide in 2017 — 1.9 million, down from 2.2 million in 2016.
However, the number of people waiting for their asylum claims to be processed is going in the opposite direction.
There were 3.1 million people with pending asylum claims in 2017, up from 2.8 million the year before.
A lot of that backlog is in the United States. In January, the U.S. had about 300,000 pending asylum cases. That’s now doubled to more than 600,000 cases. UN Refugee Agency
Many of the caravan’s members come from Honduras. This is a country that the United States has been involved with over the years, not always in a wholesome way. The Honduran democracy took severe hits to its credibility after the 2009 coup staged by the military that ousted the sitting president, Manuel Zelaya.
For many, what is at stake is the credibility of Honduran democracy itself, which is still reeling from the effects of the 2009 coup. The United States did not oppose the coup that led to corruption with the ranks of the Honduran government bureaucracy and an increase in gang related drug activity which is a prime source of drugs that reach American soil. The increase in gang related murders and control of villages is often cited by mothers and young people who flee the country rather than face death or a life in crime. The opening paragraph of a National Geographic article titled, In Gang-Ridden Honduras, Growing Old is a Privilege, Not a Right, paints a dire image of what Hondurans face on a daily basis,
THE EDGE of San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras surrounded by swamps and sugar cane fields, lies the densely populated district of Planeta. Here, church steeples dot the corners of unpaved streets amid a patchwork of gang turfs—one block may be governed by one gang and the next three by their rivals. Masked police officers patrol the streets in dust-covered body armor, their fingers on the trigger of their weapon. There are no schools and few businesses so residents have no choice but to navigate these territories on their long commutes to more affluent parts of the city, risking being caught in the crossfire.
It’s in places like this where generations of young people have realized that in Honduras the self-perpetuating cycles of violence, corruption, and poverty have robbed them of their right to grow old.
Trump’s reaction to the caravan has been to threaten to cut off aid to the country, which would exacerbate the problem rather than alleviate the problem on the ground. The Atlantic’s, What Trump Doesn’t Understand About the Central American Caravan quotes one source who speaks of why deterrents like detention and separation haven’t worked stated,
“We’ve certainly seen more than enough evidence of what conditions are like in places like Honduras and El Salvador that are pushing people experiencing high levels of gender-based violence or gang violence out of the countries,” said Philip Wolgin, the managing director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. “The analogy I’ve heard most often is: If the choice is sudden death or imminent certain death in your country, or going somewhere else with the possibility you might be detained or separated, you take the lesser of the two evils.”
When mothers and fathers and young people feel so oppressed in their home country that they are willing to sacrifice their freedom or being separated as a family, as Americans, we have to understand what drives these people to such extremes. Contrary to the Trump administration’s contention that these people are “rough customers” or “bad hombres”, the problem lies beyond our borders. True, some maybe are bad elements, but not all of them. If track record is a source for future actions, Trump will pander to his base and leave innocent people stranded at the border with no hope of rescue by the U. S. government or its president. How long before an even greater atrocity occurs at Tijuana is anyone’s guess.