U.S. treatment of migrants a national embarrassment

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Migrants should be met with open arms, not tear gas

Tensions between the Trump administration and the sensationalized migrant caravan developed into a violent clash on Nov. 25, when migrants gathered to peacefully protest the U.S.’s monthslong waitlist for asylum requests. Frustrated and desperate, a few hundred migrants — including women with small children — broke away from the protestors to scale the U.S.-Mexico border fence and were met by tear gas fired by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

This confrontation came after the caravan of approximately 5,000 individuals, most of whom are fleeing violence, corrupt governments and extreme poverty in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, spent over a month trekking across Central America in hopes of applying for political asylum in the U.S. During this time, President Donald Trump resorted to his usual anti-immigrant demagogy, making unsubstantiated claims that the Central Americans are “hardened criminals,” and deployed about 5,800 troops to the southern border to combat them.

Yet contrary to the egregious disinformation about these refugees proliferating on right-wing media and Trump’s Twitter account since October, the Central American migrants are not “an onslaught of illegal aliens.” They are asylum-seekers, who decided to travel 2,500 miles, with blistered feet, to U.S. soil to flee dangerous conditions in their home countries. These are people suffering, deeply, and desperate for a better life — the life that America, in all its idealism, promises to those who need it most: the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Applying for asylum is not a crime. U.S. law maintains that foreigners — regardless of whether they arrive in the country at a designated port of entry or not — are entitled to request asylum. And if their claim for status is rejected because they aren’t deemed to have “credible fear” of persecution, they must return home. There is, therefore, no “national emergency” or “invasion,” and it’s a disgrace that the Trump administration would brandish military rhetoric, nativism and unjustified hysteria to portray such individuals as looming threats to our country.

Because the waitlist for U.S. asylum is backlogged for months — no thanks to Trump’s tightened cap on the number of requests that can be processed daily — caravan members are now huddled in a temporary shelter in Tijuana, where they face minimal food, poor sanitation systems, disease outbreaks and freezing nights. Surely if the Trump administration wanted to, it could quickly assemble the resources to review more than the current limit of 40 to 100 asylum petitions per day and expedite the process for the Central American migrants. Instead, it has chosen to demonize the asylum-seekers as “stone cold criminals” and keep them in limbo and poor conditions for months in Mexico.  

To depict a caravan driven by humanitarian and economic strife as a criminal army of thousands bent on rushing the border is inhumane, heartless and a gross overturn of American ideals. It’s a low for a nation that purportedly stands as a beacon of freedom and hope for those who seek refuge.

U.S. authorities must treat these individuals with basic humanity and compassion and process them expeditiously and fairly. When starving, exhausted and sick men, women and children fleeing violence arrive — and even pound — at our door, we should not shoot tear gas at them and label their entry a “national emergency.” We must have mercy for the plight of our fellow human beings and, should their asylum be granted, welcome them with open arms and softened hearts.

Written by: The Editorial Board

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