As a group of Central American asylum seekers slowly make their way on foot to the southern U.S. border, President Donald Trump continues to talk about an illegal immigration crisis that doesn’t exist.
The fear and prejudice he seeks to instill has become an easy rallying cry and voting issue for the GOP. “If the migrant caravan didn’t exist, President Donald Trump might have needed to invent it,” said a recent Vox article.
Even venerable U.S. journalist Dan Rather called out Trump’s decision to send troops to the border in a recent tweet.
The U.S. Military is the most fearsome fighting force the world’s ever known. That we’re amassing thousands at the border to “repel” desperate women and children 100s of miles away is an insult – to those in uniform, to the intelligence of the American people, and to our values.
While asylum seeking is perfectly legal, it has not prevented Trump from treating it as an enemy invasion and saying he will deploy as many as 15,000 troops to the border. It’s a move that two U.S. defence officials say could cost $220 million, even as a Pentagon risk assessment finds that the migrant caravan does not pose a threat to the U.S.
‘He’s scaring people’
Dr. Elisabeth Vallet is eager to dispel many of the lies Trump has been peddling. She is the scientific director of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal and an expert on border walls. “When President Trump held a press conference [on November 1], everything he said was a lie,” she said.
“Everything. He’s scaring people, ordinary Americans who don’t read the news that attentively, or watch only Fox News, and those people are scared. And some of them are among the militias within the far-right movement that are saying that they’re going to deploy at the border.”
“There is a build-up here that won’t deflate with the midterms. It’s going to be here for a while,” she said. “There are people now in Indiana or parts of the U.S. thinking, ‘I didn’t know we had a problem, but I’m very scared now.’ So it’s deeply troubling to me.”
Vallet also believes that Canadians can’t afford to think that what’s happening in the U.S. doesn’t concern them.
“The militarization of the southern border may very well affect the northern border at one point,” she said.
“We should never look at what’s happening on the southern border as being very far from us. The U.S. is our neighbour, and if they decide to employ the army and militarize the border, even more than it already is, at one point, if something happens on our side, we’re going to get the same treatment.”
Climate migrants are the future
The other important factor to consider is what migration issues suggest for the future. A report by the World Bank states that over 10 million people could be on the move in Latin America because of climate change by 2050.
“Those people will be going north,” said Vallet. “So they are going to be heading our way whether we want them or not, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Treating migration as a crime is not the way to address it, she added.
“Those people are fleeing climate change, crime, and corruption. When you think that your kid is going to be safer on water than on land, or safer in Mexico than at home — the problem cannot be solved by treating it like a crime,” she said.
Media coverage of the caravan shows that it’s comprised of people fleeing dire conditions. Film director and author Paola Mendoza has been making the trek alongside them, providing heart-wrenching images and personal stories of the desperation of people trying to walk to safety and towards the hope of a better life.
While Vallet acknowledged that there may be a few criminals in the caravan, she also said that one-third of the people making their way to the U.S. border are children and that entry is guaranteed to no one.
“At the end of weeks, maybe we’ll have 300 people who end up at the border,” Vallet said. “And they won’t enter the country.”
“They will be stuck at the border, and the border patrol will tell them to be patient and wait because their asylum applications cannot be processed at the port of entry right now. So those people are stuck on the Mexican side, waiting for space to clear up, and it’s not very safe.”
Vallet also said that Trump lied when he said that asylum seekers who do manage to enter the country do not attend their asylum hearings.
“It’s completely false,” she stated. “A great majority of asylum seekers go to their hearings, so everything he was saying made either no sense or was a complete lie.” “But if you don’t know the facts, you can easily believe that there’s an invasion taking place. The image that he’s painting is very dangerous.”
Trump’s decision to deploy the army to the border is yet another example of pointless grandstanding, according to Vallet. She explained that the army isn’t allowed to do anything other than build roads and repair border patrol cars.
“According to international law, they are not allowed to reply to any violence with gun power,” she clarified.
“But look what his words are doing. In Nigeria, the government recently co-opted Trump’s words and used them as validation when they shot and killed rock-throwing protesters.
“His words are emboldening white supremacists inside the country and authoritarian governments around the world. He’s doing a lot of damage to a lot of countries and their political systems with his words.”