It should be far from surprising that U.S. agents fired tear gas Sunday on hundreds of migrants — including toddlers — at a border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. For almost two years, their boss the president has treated immigrants — both legal and illegal — as something less than worthy of humane treatment. He’s cruelly separated thousands of children from their parents. He’s called immigrants rapists and criminals and residents of “shithole” countries. Most recently, he’s used them as political props to be demonized in an effort to win midterm elections in Congress.
So it was, almost inevitably, that a migrant caravan was met with a harsh response at the U.S. border this weekend. On Sunday, Mexican police denied a group of these migrants from walking over a bridge to the port of entry to the U.S., where the immigrants could apply for asylum. Instead, some in the group walked along the Tijuana River to a wire fencing, which they tried to breach. U.S. border agents fired tear gas their way and into Mexico.
It could have been worse. Just last week, President Trump, over fierce objections from some administration officials, granted troops deployed at the border the right to use lethal force to defend border patrol agents. Thankfully, no one took the president up on his blessing to shoot bullets instead of tear gas at the border crossers.
But Sunday was about more than a caravan of migrants trying to legally apply for asylum. It’s about the continued poisoning of immigration reform by a president who exploits racial and demographic insecurities on the right. Those anti-immigration forces don’t want the sensible reforms that a majority of Americans want — strong border enforcement and a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. In fact, those forces don’t want to acknowledge that our borders already have been strengthened under recent administrations to the point that deportations have risen and crossings have trended down since 2000.
Instead, what at least some want is a whiter America that no longer exists, and they have a president who leverages their fear by pushing for policies that harshly treat those who cross illegally, and by also limiting legal immigration. All the while, he attempts to appeal to the worst in us by emphasizing the worst in them.
He’s still wrong about that. Immigrants continue to be not a threat to our country, but a vital part of our culture and, yes, economy. Imagine if this most recent caravan had been treated as such, that instead of sending more than 5,000 troops to the Southern border, the president had instead sent a few thousand non-military personnel to accommodate a surge of peaceful asylum applications. Perhaps there would be less inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the caravan, which already has led to some violence on Mexican streets. Perhaps there would be no tear gas, no children and mothers choking on our fear, and this country of immigrants could look something closer to humane.