By now it’s become an article of faith among President Trump’s critics that his stated determination to prevent the caravans of Central American migrants from entering the United States represents a shameful, and possibly racist, break with America’s longstanding tradition of providing haven for victims of poverty, persecution, and numerous other hardships and outrages that remain all too common abroad.
In other words, in striking contrast to the Statue of Liberty’s message of welcome for the world’s “tired…poor…[and] huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Mr. Trump and his supporters are cruelly telling the Central Americans to return to their destitute and violence-wracked countries.
So what do the critics believe should be done instead? Specifics are often lacking, but let’s do a thought experiment and try to figure out how a policy that literally doesn’t “turn its back” on downtrodden foreign populations would like. That is, let’s try to imagine the gist of what a President Hillary Clinton would say about the caravans if she took seriously claims that the Trump approach to the problem is unforgivably callous and wrongheaded – claims that she’s made clear she agrees with via her strong condemnation of Trump administration policies that have resulted in frequent separation of migrant children from their parents:
“My fellow Americans:
“As you have seen in many news reports, several so-called caravans of Central Americans are heading north, through Mexico, filled with men, women, and children hoping to make new lives in the United States.
“Many politicians and news organizations in conservative and Republican ranks, along with out-and-out right-wing extremists, have portrayed this caravans as an impending ‘invasion’ of our country. They’ve urged my administration to deal with this ‘national security emergency’ by taking all necessary steps to turn the migrants back – including stationing the American military at the border.
“I come before you tonight to make clear that I will strongly reject such measures. They would represent a violation of our solemn international treaty obligations. They would amount to a betrayal of America’s long, proud history of welcoming immiserated populations from all corners of the world. And they would ignore simple human decency. In fact, some who urge a hard line toward the migrants are clearly playing on longstanding dark, but completely unjustifiable, fears about foreigners and even about racial and ethnic minorities.
“So I will not send regular military or even national guards units to the border. I will not beef up Border Patrol deployments. And I certainly will not begin building a Wall – as my chief opponent in the last election so foolishly and crudely recommended.
“Nor will I outsource my migrants policy to Mexico, or to the migrants’ home country governments. For none of these countries can guarantee the migrants the safety from crime and violence and the escape from poverty that they, like all members of the human family, deserve.
“In fact, I’m issuing an Executive Order that explicitly establishes gang and domestic violence as valid reasons for granting asylum. For aren’t these dangers just as appalling and inexcusable as the religious, political, and other forms of persecution to which grants of asylum have historically been restricted? Further, this new directive will abolish the artificial distinction between refugees from these horrors and refugees from joblessness, threadbare wages, hunger, homelessness, and other forms of economic privation. For if you’re being victimized for your political leanings or religion or nationality, you’re almost surely trapped in grinding, dehumanizing poverty as well.
“Of course, I’ll be directing that much more of the Justice Department’s budget be allotted to end the shortage of immigration judges that has produced immense backlogs in our immigration courts. Yet until the shortage ends, I will also mandate the construction of high quality accommodations for asylum applicants awaiting a hearing, including first-rate schooling for their children. And needless to say, applicants will enjoy the full come-and-go freedom to and from these facilities. Otherwise, we’d be putting them in cages, however gilded.
“Moreover, I will immediately put into effect my campaign promise to increase five-fold America’s admissions of refugees from Syria’s horrendous civil war. In fact, I apologize to these refugees for waiting so long to address their plight.
“And finally, because too many recent arrivals – from Central America and elsewhere – continue living precariously in the shadows, I will restrict the enforcement of domestic immigration law to finding and deporting dangerous criminals. For far too long taxpayers – including these many of these Aspiring Americans – have paid far too much money for the hounding of individuals and families whose only illegal behavior has been seeking better lives.
“We Americans need to remember: Except for our native American and native-born African-American populations, practically all of our ancestors came to this country for the exact same reasons motivating the Central Americans and so many others today. The Pilgrims were seeking freedom of religion. The Jamestown settlers were economic migrants. How can we deny caravan members and others like them the same opportunities that our nation has extended to our own forebears?
“The answer, it must be clear, is that we mustn’t and we can’t – if we want to be law-abiding global citizens, if we want to be true to our country’s best traditions, and if we want to be able to look ourselves squarely in the mirror.”
Pretty inspiring, isn’t it? But before you pick up the phone to call your Member of Congress (or the White House) to demand implementation of this agenda right now, ask yourself about the impact of an announcement like this. According to Gallup, as of last year, nearly 150 million people around the world would like to move to the United States. That includes 37 million Latin Americans.
Yet since the situation in Central American has clearly worsened over the last year, along with the crisis in Venezuela, that figure now is surely conservative. Additionally, the Trump administration’s current attitude towards migrants could well be depressing the number who consider migrating to the United States an option worth thinking about even idly. The kind of welcoming position Trump critics seem to want – i.e., one that further and greatly strengthens already powerful magnets that have attracting enormous foreign populations to this country – could well supercharge their ranks.
The lessons of this exercise couldn’t be clearer. If you believe that the United States could easily absorb anything close to this inflow in the near future, go right on lambasting the Trump administration and supporters of its immigration policies as modern day [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE ARCH-VILLAIN FROM HISTORY OR LITERATURE HERE]’s. But if you’re genuinely interested in devising an immigration and migrants and refugee policy that acceptably reflects your version of America’s values but recognizes the inevitable limits on such good intentions, you’ll start grandstanding less and thinking about the who, what, how, why, when, and where more.