When President Trump began his prime-time address in January to press Congress once again for the $5.7 billion dollars he wanted for his border wall (he’s now requesting $8.6 billion), he introduced the topic by warning of a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” Though he has recognized both the humanitarian and security emergencies present, his administration is disproportionately focused on security and has done nothing to alleviate the catastrophic impact on the immigrants themselves.
The President’s rhetoric surrounding illegal immigrants distorts reality, and his fear-mongering has gone as far as calling the migrants “animals” and “invaders.” He has, through a promotion of a culture of fear and xenophobia, convinced his base that migrants must be kept from entering the country illegally at all costs, presenting the ultimate solution as a border wall. It is not difficult to see why someone absorbing Trump’s message would feel hostile toward illegal immigration into the United States; however, the notion that many of the people entering the country illegally are extremely dangerous and must be apprehended is simply false.
Trump and his administration have irrefutably misrepresented, exaggerated and lied about the dangers regarding national security due to the illegal immigration at the southern border. The facts do not support his rationale of building a border wall. Undocumented immigrants are much less likely to be convicted of crimes than native-born citizens, according to a 2018 study by the Cato Institute.
Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Department of Homeland Security and former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly have all stated that most drugs come into the United States via legal ports of entry, not open desert. The case is the same with human trafficking; Polaris, a D.C. based anti-human trafficking charity, notes that human traffickers succeed in bringing victims into the country through airports.
After recognizing the falsity of Trump’s claims of a security emergency, the next step is to come to terms with the very real humanitarian disaster. Several Central American countries are among those with the highest murder rates in the world; the World Bank lists El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela as the top three, respectively. In order to escape the extreme rates of violence—poverty and drugs pose a significant threat as well—people choose to make the journey to the United States, which can take months of walking thousands of miles. If they survive the perilous journey, they can either legally apply for asylum and wait months in Mexico for their trial in immigration court, risking denial and deportment back to the violence from which they fled, or they can enter illegally and face the same risk of deportment.
Undocumented immigrants that are detained in the United States are kept in poor conditions; it was discovered in 2018 that the Trump Administration had been separating migrant children from their parents and sending them to detention centers. Unfortunately, cases of sexual assault and improper medical care have also occurred, and two migrant children have died so far in U.S. custody. Though these may be extreme cases, they are indicative of the treatment of immigrants overall. Despite this risk, migrants are willing to endure these conditions rather than stay in their own country and suffer the fatal dangers present.
The fact that Trump would prefer to spend billions on a wall to keep these people out rather than to help them is abhorrent. The money could be used to fund more immigration judges to speed up the trial process, to improve the immigrants’ conditions in their holding facilities or even to help foreign countries to improve themselves to the extent where its citizens don’t feel that the safest option is to flee. Whether to accept or reject these people and treat them as human beings should not divide our country among partisan lines, and the fact that it does is an ethical failure on the part of the politicians elected to represent us.
This is not to say that the situation is hopeless. Though the government continues to remain deadlocked over any decision one way or another over a border wall, there are ways that individuals can help.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas are constantly fighting for immigrant rights, and many would appreciate donations. Another charity, Miles4Migrants, accepts donations of frequent flyer miles (as well as monetary donations) to help asylum seekers, refugees, and separated family members reach their new homes. If you have the resources to donate, these and other similar charities are worth considering.
The current situation is both grim and disappointing, and Trump and his administration’s performance shows nothing less than an absence of empathy, as does supporting his immigration policies. Despite the President’s beliefs and actions, the humanitarian crisis at the border is more of an emergency than anything he has fabricated. The treatment of immigrants may take some time to see significant improvement, but change is not impossible and not without advocates.