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Opinion & Editorial

Let the Migrant Caravan In – Legally 

The migrant caravan headed for the US-Mexico border has reignited America’s debate over immigration. “Fibonacci Blue”/Flickr

On November 3, nearly 7,000 Honduran migrants passed through Mexico’s southern Oaxaca province on their way to the US border. 

This “caravan” has reignited America’s incendiary debate over immigration. 

Many of the caravan’s refugees endure the grueling trek through central America with no shoes and carry nothing but the clothes on their backs. For the vast majority, escaping Honduras’s ubiquitous gang violence is a matter of life and death. 

So amid all the uncertain reports and fuzzy details, one thing is clear: we have to do something. As Americans — as citizens of a prosperous country with an abundance of resources — we have an ethical obligation to intervene.

President Trump has done nothing but shirk that responsibility.

In an obvious fear-mongering ploy on the eve of midterms, Trump fallaciously warned that unidentified Middle Eastern terrorists are interspersed within the caravan, insinuated that many of its members are criminals, and vowed that not one will be admitted into the country. 

But these threats aren’t just empty talk: this particular dog has both bark and bite. On Wednesday, Trump stationed over 15,000 troops along the US-Mexico border.

Such a move is, at best, an ill-advised policy based on scant evidence. But at worst, Trump’s rhetoric regarding the caravan is an overtly racist and nativist play to a constituency that would like nothing better than an entirely immigrant-proof domestic policy.

Given his history on the issue — and recent pledge to end birthright citizenship — it’s most likely the latter. 

Yet for all his naked nationalism and hyperbole, there is a small bit of truth to what the president says. After all, his Democratic counterparts haven’t exactly proposed a great solution to the caravan crisis either.

As the migrants inch closer to the border, a recurring response from the left has been to simply “let them in.” 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and isn’t that simple.

Though practically all of the migrants are not in fact “thugs” or “rapists,” the Department of Homeland Security has identified 270-some caravan members who have criminal records.

In addition, indiscriminately opening the floodgates and admitting a torrent of migrants without vetting them properly puts incredible stress on an already backlogged immigration system. Hastily letting 7,000 people across the border, no matter where they come from, is a massive national security risk-one we’d be quite naive and entirely unwise to take. 

And though we must allow immigrants in dire straits into the nation, we cannot set the precedent that those who come knocking on our southern door get to somehow “skip the line” or enjoy expedited admission into the country. Doing so would only invite further mass migration and humanitarian disasters. Though it’s an unfortunate reality, it’s only fair that immigrants not in immediate danger must wait their turn. 

That doesn’t mean we leave them stranded.

Because in the case of the Honduran caravan, many migrants are in immediate danger. We have a responsibility to intervene. But we also have a responsibility to maintain order in our nation and at its borders. 

We have both a humanitarian and national security duties here, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. 

We can and should do both. 

Under US law, those fleeing persecution abroad can apply for asylum upon arrival at the border. Using this process, the Department of Homeland Security could evaluate each caravan member’s situation and grant them asylum as needed. This would allow the government to provide aid and assistance to refugees of gang warfare, while still vetting and keeping tabs on those entering our nation. 

And for the few Honduran migrants who don’t qualify for immediate asylum — though the overwhelming majority undoubtedly would given their circumstances — we ought to work with our southern neighbors to aid and sustain them in Mexico while they apply for U.S. visas. Because contrary to what our President seems to think, they would prove valuable and contributing American citizens. 

By working with Mexico to provide organized support for the caravan at the border, we can ensure that the thousands of migrants who need U.S. asylum, assistance, and citizenship receive it, while the minuscule fraction who shouldn’t, well, don’t. But that cannot happen if we turn the entire caravan away at gunpoint out of nativist fears, or allow it to tear down fences and cross an “open border” without checking in with the US government. 

So rather than turn away the Honduran refugees, we ought to legally and safely admit as many as possible.

Rather than stare at the migrant caravan down the barrels of 15,000 guns, we ought to welcome it with open arms. 


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August 20, 2019