The “caravan” has reached the U.S.-Mexico border. What those in the group found at America’s door is violence. Sunday afternoon in the border city of Tijuana, men, women and children ― some barely toddlers ― were hit with tear gas fired by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in an attempt to drive away a large group of migrants protesting for their right to seek asylum. The busiest port of entry into the United States was closed as some of the migrants attempted to storm their way in ― a last resort for those who have been barred from entering by every legal channel.
The image is shocking. A mother, weeping, running away in the shadow of the border wall, clutching a small, diaper-wearing child amid a cloud of tear gas. We shouldn’t be surprised. Under the Trump administration, a nation once world-renowned as the land of immigrants has become defined by the cries of children. The use of violent force to drive away asylum-seekers from our border is yet another moment that risks deforming our national soul.
But there is an alternative: Just let the caravan in.
The Trump administration wants us to believe that simply allowing the large group of Central American asylum seekers to come in is impossible; that it would be nothing short of opening the borders to anyone and everyone. But the truth is that we could process these asylum claims fairly and quickly and with compassion, something our current system makes too difficult. What’s missing is the political will to reform the system.
The people in the caravan are not the problem. The problem is that we continue to brutalize innocent people for seeking the American Dream.
It’s not like our country doesn’t have the room. Even more importantly, our booming economy needs new labor flows just as much as Central American migrants need new lives. A dealmaker like President Donald Trump should know how to spot a win-win.
Furthermore, there is no national security threat. The Department of Homeland Security has undercover agents embedded within the migrant caravan. This deployment of finite resources should raise serious questions amid genuine security threats like rising white nationalist violence. But we can at least reassure ourselves there aren’t any terrorists embedded among the migrants. After all, if any real evidence to that effect had been found, don’t you think this president would already jumped at the opportunity to tweet I-told-you-so?
And not all of the migrants are truly strangers. Many have lived in the United States before, and were deported. For them, this is an epic journey home. Others who have crossed the border are American citizens themselves. The story of Yeisvi Carillo, an American citizen who was separated from her mother at the border, reminds us that the line between “us” and “them” has always been blurrier than our immigration policies would suggest. When politicians speak of putting American citizens first, I wonder, why do they never mean citizens like Yisvi, or other families, like mine, with relatives on both sides of the wall?
As a Latino American, the violence on display Sunday is an ugly thing to see. How should one feel about a wall built by my country against my people? I see my military, which includes in its ranks many children of immigrants, guarding against those whose only crime is that they would be like us. What is a Latin American migrant if not an aspiring Latino American? If the prospect of a migrant coming here and becoming American is so fear-inducing that they must be tear-gassed away, then what are you saying about those of us from south of the border who did make it? Are we not as good Americans as you? Why do you fear the prospect of more of us? Have we really been so terrible?
Poverty and insecurity in Central America has no end in sight. For two administrations now, efforts to deter, deport, and detain the problem away have not worked. Hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants are already here, and they will keep coming. The people in the caravan are not the problem. The problem is that we continue to brutalize innocent people for seeking the American Dream.
Every ounce of cruelty committed at the border in our name, and on our dime, tears at the multiethnic fabric of our society and corrodes the fundamental goodness of the American people. The moral price we are paying to keep migrant families away, locked up, separated, and in fear of deportation is too high (and the fiscal price is not small, either). We are lucky then that there is one simple and good alternative: Let them in.
Antonio De Loera-Brust is a first-generation Mexican-American filmmaker and writer originally from Davis, California.