Trump on Asylum Seekers: Hysterical, Shortsighted, Wrong

Honduran migrants rest in the main square of Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, on October 19, 2018. © 2018 Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

By Bill Frelick

The people in the Central American caravan making their way to the US border with Mexico are facing real life-and-death issues that need to be addressed. What they don’t need is to be overshadowed by posturing and threats, particularly from the President of the United States.

Look at these three tweets, sent by President Donald Trump:

Rather than threatening vulnerable people in fear of their lives, the president should really turn down the rhetoric more than a few notches. A caravan of several thousand migrants and asylum seekers is hardly “an onslaught.” It originated in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, one of the most violent, gang-ridden municipalities in the world. It is hardly surprising that people living there would feel compelled to leave.

The causes of migration are multiple, and people’s individual need for protection may vary; it is highly likely a fair, case-by-case assessment will recognize some asylum claims and deny others.

Trump’s tweet that every person arriving illegally will be arrested, detained, and sent back willfully ignores the rights of asylum seekers that the United States has long agreed to respect, and the realities facing people fleeing for their lives. Asylum seekers do not need a passport, visa, or letter of invitation. Both the US and Mexico have legal obligations to assess refugee claims before sending someone back to a place where they could face persecution and abuse.

Cutting aid to refugee-producing countries will only make worse the conditions that displace people in the first place. The US has directed foreign aid to tackle inter-related security, governance, and economic drivers of displacement. After a migration surge in 2014, the US increased aid to Honduras and the other countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle in recognition that building walls or lining up troops would not solve the problem.

Root causes must be addressed, among them ending corruption and impunity for abuses by state security forces. This is the right approach: people generally don’t want to leave their homes if they can live normal, safe lives there.