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Luis Carrasco: Context is key in administration's border spin

Luis Carrasco: Context is key in administration's border spin

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen released a statement regarding the incident on Sunday at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where Border Patrol agents fired tear gas into Mexico to disperse a group of migrants that attempted to rush the border fence. Nielsen claims she wants to “dispel many of the rumors and much of the misinformation circulating,” yet her statement is riddled with misinformation and obfuscation.

So, to the actual end of separating fact from fiction, I submit my annotated version of Nielsen’s remarks. The secretary’s words are in italics.

“First, the violence we saw at the border was entirely predictable. This caravan, unlike previous caravans, had already entered #Mexico violently and attacked border police in two other countries. I refuse to believe that anyone honestly maintains that attacking law enforcement with rocks and projectiles is acceptable. It is shocking that I have to explain this, but officers can be seriously or fatally injured in such attacks. Self-defense isn’t debatable for most law-abiding Americans.”

Nielsen is right, the violence at the border was predictable. Here’s the recipe: 1) Funnel thousands of desperate immigrants to the ports of entry by saying that only those going through legal crossings will be considered for asylum. 2) Only process less than a hundred people a day, pushing waiting times from weeks to months. 3) Have migrants spend that time waiting in overcrowded shelters and threatened by violence in Mexico.

The secretary is also correct that there had been clashes between migrants and law enforcement, and that throwing rocks is unacceptable. But these were incidents involving some migrants, not the caravan as a whole.

“Second, the caravan is far larger and more organized than previous ones. There are 8,500 caravan members in Tijuana and Mexicali. There are reports of additional caravans on their way.”

The caravan is larger and 8,500 seems like a lot, but is it enough to warrant the overreaction we’re seeing? In 1986, a peak year, Border Patrol agents in the San Diego sector made 629,656 arrests, part of the 1.6 million apprehensions made during that period along the southern border, with far fewer resources and manpower.

“Third, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are not eligible for asylum in the United States under our laws. Historically, less than 10% of those who claim asylum from #Guatemala, #Honduras, and #El Salvador are found eligible by a federal judge. 90% are not eligible. Most of these migrants are seeking jobs or to join family who are already in the U.S. They have all refused multiple opportunities to seek protection in Mexico or with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Seeking employment or family reunification are not grounds for asylum under our laws, or any international obligation. There are, however, legal ways to seek a job or to be reunited in the U.S.”

True, most of the migrants in the caravan will not qualify for asylum — less so now after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions eliminated threats of domestic and gang violence as grounds for protection — but this is meaningless. There is an asylum process and, regardless of the general outcome, you can’t deny people the chance to legally apply. As for there being “legal ways to seek a job,” the way the system is now set up, for most immigrants you may as well be saying there are viable ways to go into outer space.

“Fourth, the caravan members are predominately male. It appears in some cases that the limited number of women and children in the caravan are being used by the organizers as “human shields” when they confront law enforcement. They are being put at risk by the caravan organizers as we saw at the Mexico-Guatemala border. This is putting vulnerable people in harm’s way.”

Just use your eyes on this one. The caravan has plenty of men in it, but it’s by no means “predominately male.” There is also zero evidence that women and children are being used as human shields.

“Fifth, we cannot confirm the backgrounds and identities of all caravan members which possess a national security and public safety risk to our country. However, at this point we have confirmed that there are over 600 convicted criminals traveling with the caravan flow. This includes individuals known to law enforcement for assault, battery, drug crimes, burglary, rape, child abuse and more. This is serious. Additionally, Mexico has already arrested 100 caravan members for criminal violations in Mexico.”

From their own numbers, there are 8,500 caravan members and thousands more on the way. DHS has declined to say how they can identify a precise number, calling the information “law enforcement sensitive” (biometric data, most likely) but they’ve apparently identified 600 people with criminal records. How many of these people were convicted for immigration offenses, such as illegal re-entry, is unknown, though.

Of course, violent offenders should not be allowed to enter the country. But if they’re coming, what is the plan for these criminal masterminds we are so afraid of? If their goal is asylum, the system will flag and deny them release. If their idea is to sneak into the U.S., they could be a lot stealthier than joining a group that has been tracked since October. This seems, again, a way to brand the entire caravan as dangerous.

“Sixth, our Border Patrol agents and officers responded admirably and responsibly to the events on Sunday. It is a testament to their training and professionalism that no one was injured. The accepted use of nonlethal force (also used by the Obama Administration in 2013) prevented further injury to agents and a mass illegal rush across the border. We will not shy away from protecting our people. I ask parents to avoid violent caravan groups and refrain from attempts to illegally enter our country – these acts will put your children in danger.”

The legality of shooting tear gas into a foreign country is still up for debate, but using nonlethal force is a much better option in a world where the president of the United States has allowed the army to use lethal force “if they have to” against migrants.

“Seventh, I want to thank President Donald J. Trump again for the decision to send @DeptofDefense to the border to bolster our ports of entry and provide force protection for Customs and Border Protection. This decision likely prevented injuries to personnel and migrants or additional damage to property. Instead of “a political stunt,” as suggested by some, this was in fact the act of a leader concerned about the rule of law.”

There is no doubt that the United States Army was used as a political tool to influence the midterm elections. There was no need to send almost 6,000 active military to the border. National Guard members were already there to support the 16,000 Border Patrol agents along the southern border.

“Eighth, this Administration has been working nonstop to fix our immigration system to address the crisis at the border. We have proposed legislation and asked Congress to pass it. The President has repeatedly made clear what is needed to secure our border and negotiated in good faith. It is time for Congress to do its job. Absent Congressional action courts have misinterpreted existing laws and have made the job of law enforcement far more difficult. But the men and women of DHS will continue to do all we can to enforce the law and DHS and U.S. Department of State will continue negotiations with Mexico and our other partners in the region. We are optimistic that cross border collaboration can help make America, indeed the entire region, more secure.”

There is no crisis at the border except by the administration’s own making. The president has sabotaged all efforts for bipartisan immigration reform, making conciliatory statements then changing his mind overnight and scuttling any hope of passing legislation. He continues to cling to his idea of a border wall, he has even threatened to shut down the government over its funding, but even if there was a wall there now, the thousands of migrants would still be there, waiting their turn to come into the country and ask for asylum.

The only real solution is not more money for enforcement or a wall, but to address the lack of security and economic opportunity that is racking Central America.

“Finally, this Administration warned about the danger of the caravan. We predicted the violence we saw on Sunday. We prepared to address it with additional personnel and DOD deployments. We will continue to prepare for the next assault while looking for lasting solutions with Congress and our Mexican partners. As always, I want to thank those officers and agents in San Ysidro who, under tremendous strain, used professionalism and restraint to ensure that no one was injured as they were attacked themselves. I also thank DOD and our state and local law enforcement who were on scene to support our people.”

President Trump has used his power irresponsibly, aided by right-wing pundits, to stir up fear and resentment towards immigrants. The administration’s “prediction” was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is ridiculous that the most powerful nation on earth continues to “prepare for the next assault” by unarmed men, women and children who face layers of concertina wire, a fence, armed Border Patrol agents and the army.

Law enforcement agents are not only owed Nielsen’s thanks, they are owed an apology. They have been put in an impossible situation where they are expected to protect the border and respect human rights while the administration seems to flaunt carnage as inevitable.

The danger at the border is not the caravan, but the president’s reckless disregard for human lives.

Luis F. Carrasco is an editorial writer at the Star. Email him at

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