We are all cringing at the images of migrants, including women and children, fleeing tear gas at the southern California border.
At the same time, we have to separate the emotion of those images from the reality that a lawless surge at border checkpoints is going to draw a response from the law enforcement agents we have charged with keeping order. When dozens of migrants attempted to cross the border illegally and began hurling rocks at U.S. Border Patrol Agents, the agents had little choice but to employ tear gas to disperse the crowd.
If we take yet another step back and look at matters rationally rather than emotionally, we can see that from the Middle East to the northern triangle of Central America, we are witnessing one humanitarian crisis after another—people fleeing their native countries in search of a better life. Ebbing democracy, failing states and increasing desperation are leading people to seek better circumstances than those they face.
In America, we need to be a light of hope for the world—deeply engaged in building better states abroad through the example of democracy, freedom and rule of law. That’s why it’s crucial for President Donald Trump and the new House leadership to work with GOP leadership in the Senate to ensure our foreign and trade policies in Central America and around the world are aimed at increasing freedom and prosperity in the same way the North American Free Trade Agreement helped lift a generation of Mexicans out of the worst grip of poverty.
But even as we work to promote more lawful and prosperous societies abroad, we shouldn’t condemn our own law enforcement here for doing their jobs in the face of all but impossible circumstances.
Whatever one thinks of what Trump says or tweets, particularly about his hope to build a massive border wall, it doesn’t excuse migrants rushing at our border patrol. We have laws governing immigration—whether for people seeking asylum, for those looking to gain work visas or those hoping to become citizens. Immigrants must respect our laws, just as we must. Border Patrol agents used the tear gas as a last resort, not as a first option. We’re sympathetic to the frustrations of those who made the dangerous trip to the border. The application for asylum takes time and right now, U.S. officials don’t have the resources to do the job.
Sooner or later, the president or his successor will have to address the need for more resources to process asylum claims. Even in the most hopeful circumstances, with smarter immigration policy, statecraft and aid, Central America may be a generation or more from the sort of stability that curbs mass migration. The current issues with our immigration policies and related foreign policy span several presidential administrations. It didn’t start with Trump, though he’s shown more than enough willingness to throw gas on the fire. Democrats are quick to condemn, but without real solutions we’ll be witness to more conflict between desperate migrants and well-meaning border patrol agents. If confrontation and resolution continue to fall to those two groups, we will know our politicians have failed us utterly.
—Excerpted from The Dallas Morning News