Opinion | Trump Does His Divisive El Paso Number
EL PASO — This tranquil city of bilingual trans-border commerce is where lurid fantasy meets humdrum reality. President Trump will come here Monday, risking life and limb at “our very dangerous southern border,” that “lawless” frontier facing a “tremendous onslaught.” I can reassure the president: He will be able to gaze at Mexico without breaking a sweat or putting his hairdo at risk.
Trump will attribute the calm to fencing completed a decade ago and recently extended with what looks like junkyard metal. In his State of the Union address, he claimed the barrier transformed El Paso from “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities” into “one of our safest cities.” This was a lie.
It incensed the mayor, Dee Margo, who tweeted: “El Paso was neverone of the mostdangerous cities in the U.S.” It incensed Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, who accused the president in a tweet of spreading “falsehoods.” For a city of its size, El Paso has eased from pretty safe to super safe as its violent crime rate has dropped since the mid-1990s. The city’s story is not a fence story.
Margo, in an interview, said: “I hope we have some adult behavior. Egos are overriding common sense and I think it’s ridiculous.” Escobar told me: “Trump’s wall obsession is his way of keeping a campaign promise to the core of his base, many of whom are xenophobic and some outright racist.”
El Paso is as good a place as any to grasp America’s warped political discourse, the crazed way it’s abandoned rational debate of real problems for the sterile shrieking of tribes. The United States has a broken immigration system that’s an affront to a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws, but nobody really wants to talk about why or how to fix it.
Trump is Exhibit A in the process. Someone perceived early in his campaign that immigration was an issue around which a simple galvanizing argument could be advanced that Trump might actually understand: build a wall from sea to shining sea, keep out Mexican “rapists,” have Mexico pay, and claim an invasion of brown-skinned illegals has been stopped in the name of American jobs, security and identity. As for reality, forget it.
Some version of this fear-stoking fable will be repeated by Trump on Monday night at the El Paso County Coliseum. It’s no accident he has chosen this Texas border city for his first “Make America Great Again” rally of the 2020 cycle. The president will portray himself as the man standing between the country and the abyss of invasion, lawlessness and socialism. He will do so in the city of Beto O’Rourke, the charismatic former congressman weighing a presidential campaign. He will try to skewer Democrats like O’Rourke as immigrant-huggers.
If Trump were interested in facts rather rabble-rousing mendacity and the theatrical stringing of concertina wire by military forces needlessly dispatched to the border, he might note the following: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — not Mexico — are now the overwhelming source of northward migration. Poverty, violence, corrupt governments (Guatemala’s vigorously supported by the Trump administration) organized crime and longstanding mistreatment of indigenous peoples feed the flow. A Marshall Plan for Central America would do more for border security than any barrier.
So would patient, respectful diplomacy, rather than wild outbursts, with the Mexican government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who holds the key to the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border.
More than 600 miles of fencing already cover about a third of the border. Trump’s wild talk of his WALL, drugs and terrorism is pure obfuscation. It ignores where a barrier might be useful, how narcotics come in, and the real sources of terrorist threats.
The United States border force has been placed in an impossible situation. It was trained to deal with single Mexican males striving to escape capture. It now faces a different phenomenon: thousands of mainly Guatemalan families a month driven northward on buses and intent on presenting themselves to border guards once in.
They do so in the social-media-transmitted knowledge that the zigzags of Trump administration policy (including the cruel separation of thousands of children from their parents during the “zero tolerance” interlude) have ended in a situation where these families know they will be released within 20 days by ICE and go to the back of an 800,000-person line awaiting their day in immigration court. That’s a virtual guarantee of at least two to threeyears in the country (though the administration is trying to make them wait in a Mexican limbo that could be nightmarish).
These immigrants are no different from those who arrived at Ellis Island: They are fleeing misery and often violence in search of a better life. Some are bona fide refugees legally entitled to protection. The United States, nation of migration and churn, must treat them with humanity. Openness, not walls, has served the country and preserves its spirit.
The United States is also a nation of laws. Trump has turned a serious dilemma into a theater of racist scapegoating and so served division, not needed immigration reform. No Democrat could vote to finance his bigotry; plenty of Democrats could vote for a secure border. Trump won 25.7 percent of the vote in El Paso. That’s because people on the border understand the benefits of binational flux. They see through Trump’s chest-beating America First to its un-American core.
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