Editorials

Trump scapegoats refugee caravan for midterm votes

Trump announcing that his administration will no longer “catch and release”s immigrants on Thursday
Trump announcing that his administration will no longer “catch and release”s immigrants on Thursday AP

In the name of firing up his base, President Trump on Thursday heightened his official war on immigrants — as the days until the critical midterm elections dwindle. At best, it was another stunt, and worst, it was insidious scapegoating. Either way, damage was done.

In what was to be a policy speech but became a stump speech, Trump continued to demonize the refugees in the human caravan making its way to the U.S. -Mexico border, even implying that the men in the caravan would make women in America unsafe.

To further deter the caravan, whose size has dwindled to about 3,600, Trump said his administration is ending the practice of “catch and release,” where asylum seekers are allowed into the community while they await their immigration hearings. Now, everyone will be detained — indefinitely.

To house them, he vowed to build “massive cities of tents” to be constructed by the military.

“We’re gonna catch, we’re not going to release,” a gleeful president told reporters. This is an expensive and inhumane policy. Those released to stateside relatives and other sponsors have proven to be law-abiding residents who follow the rules.

The president also said he will overhaul the asylum claims process. Just because people are living in poverty in their country, he said, doesn’t mean we have to accept them. Perhaps, but that’s America’s broad-minded calling card, and any change warrants comprehensive debate.

Trump even threatened to open fire on members of the caravan if they throw rocks at the 15,000 U.S. military personnel ordered to the border to stop them. That’s an abominable threat.

Trump is on a roll. Earlier this week, he announced plans to end the birthright citizenship of babies born to undocumented immigrants. He has no power to do so, but his message is unmistakable.

Let’s be clear: Safeguarding U.S. borders should be the righteous goal of any president. And Americans should support it. But not like this. That Trump would stroke fears by turning the Central American refugees into “invaders” or adding the loaded term “Middle Easterners” — all to get his people to the polls — is reprehensible.

It also was preventable. Trump has taken action where federal lawmakers and previous presidents have failed. A more deliberative, less partisan and cowed Congress would have successfully implemented at least the beginning of common-sense and compassionate immigration reform. But several attempts, including one led by Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, fell apart, partisanship winning again and again. Well, maybe after Tuesday’s elections.

The United States is not alone in dealing with a refugee dilemma. Few countries have it worse right now than Colombia, where 1 million Venezuelans have sought refuge by simply crossing the border with their neighbor. Venezuelans are fleeing their country’s repression and economic collapse. Thousands more have settled in South Florida.

But unlike the United States, Colombia is not demonizing the desperate. “There is no sign of xenophobia right now,” Colombia’s new ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos, told the Editorial Board on Thursday, even though he says the influx is not sustainable.

Santos says between 3,000 and 5,000 Venezuelans a day cross into his country — many stay; others continue into Ecuador.

The human suffering is spilling over to his country, Santos told the Board. “It’s a huge mess.”

But asked if his country would consider closing the borders to those needy Venezuelans, the ambassador asked: “How can you?”

Too bad President Trump has no qualms doing just that.

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