Donald Trump’s wall is an attempt to solve the wrong problem. The masses gathering at our southern border are more like refugees from Syria flooding Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey than single men from Mexico looking for work, who used to constitute the majority of our illegal crossings. Single Mexican men represent less than a trickle of the folks attempting entry into the U.S. The vast majority are migrant families who gather at legal ports of entry. Most of those who do cross illegally actually report to the authorities so they can file for asylum. A wall simply won’t do the job.
Trump, however, is correct about two things: There is an emergency, and the culprit is the Flores Decision mandating that unaccompanied minors be released within 20 days. But his policy is all wrong. The Democrats, for their part, have been expending all their political capital denying a problem exists, and they are as culpable as the president.
This is a refugee problem, and that is how it must be addressed. We have to figure out how to protect both our national interests and our values. The first moral/ethical imperative is to treat these people humanely. The second is to protect our national interests. We must have secure borders. Our economy simply can’t absorb all the Third World refugees who want to come here. They place too great a burden on our social services and schools, and they depress wages for low-skilled Americans. The root problem driving this wave of migration is the failed states in Central America where economies and the rule of law are collapsing. If we want to mitigate the problem in a way consistent with our values, we must make a choice. Do we address the root causes, or the symptoms?
The first step is for Trump to go to Pelosi with a deal. Give up on wall funding for now, beyond what was funded in the deal that reopened the government last January. Do this, in exchange for legislation allowing us to treat this as a refugee crisis, overturning the Flores decision, allowing the establishment of semi-permanent refugee camps in partnership with NGOs and other international refugee organizations. That will allow us to both treat the migrants more humanely and effectively dedicate the resources needed – more immigration officers, courts and judges – to rationally and expeditiously process the claims for asylum and send those who don’t qualify back home.
The second step is for Trump to organize a coalition of western hemisphere nations to cooperatively deal with the problem. Then we have to make the really hard choice: Do we want to stabilize the nations of Central America? Do we want to engage in the kind of nation building we have spent two decades attempting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Alternatively, do we want to house refugees in permanent camps for the foreseeable future, like the Palestinians for the last 70 years? Neither “solution” is easy or pretty. There is one huge difference, however, between Central America and the Middle East. This isn’t half a world away, and the armed thugs are street gangs, not highly organized international terrorist groups funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, this problem may be somewhat less intractable for us, and it is immediate and local. The bottom line is that if Trump succeeds with his current policy, which essentially amounts to simply locking these people in Mexico, the problem will only get worse. Mexico will eventually and inevitably become a failed state, with a collapsing economy as well. If that ever happens, our current problems will look like a cakewalk.
There is yet another piece of this puzzle that no one seems to be addressing. The drug trafficking issue that Trump complains about in every immigration speech and at every rally isn’t a one-way street. Something like 85 percent of the guns confiscated from the drug and street gangs in Mexico and Central America come from the United States. United States gun manufacturers profit from the chaos that drives our immigration/refugee crisis, much like the opioid crisis was originally driven by legitimate drug manufacturers. But guns are the third rail of Trump/GOP politics. When I look at places like Yemen, where millions of people are literally starving to death because no one can get enough food aid into the country, I ask myself, how is it that they never run out of guns, mortars and bullets? How do weapons flow in so easily, but food is effectively blocked? Why can’t we put restrictions on gun manufacturers and control the illegal flow of guns to the criminals who are driving refugees to our southern border?
The fact is that neither political party, nor Donald Trump, is as committed to solving the problem as they are to exploiting it as a political issue. Politically, the problem works really well by mobilizing their respective bases. It is a great catalyst for creating primal anger — the mother’s milk of identity politics — and the driving force in both political parties and the fuel that feeds Trump-ism.
Also, while I acknowledge the current crisis, calling it a crisis is misleading. It is actually a chronic condition affecting the entire world, and it will never go away. Human beings will always flee violence and economic desperation. Climate change will only increase mass migration. The coffee and corn crops in Central America are suffering from long-term drought caused by climate change, where what water fallen comes in floods caused by extreme weather events, resulting in more damage than relief, and the impacted peasants join the migration caravans.
The longer we pretend we can solve this problem ourselves by simply keeping people out, the worse it’s going to get, both for us and the migrants. The only long-term solution is to acknowledge this as a long-term, chronic condition of the modern world and the only effective approach is to develop international humane protocols to deal with it.