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The chaos we are witnessing at the border is directly attributable to the choices of the Trump White House to dismantle proven approaches and processes and to stoke fears and escalate a crisis. While Trump and company may view the lawlessness and disorder on display as a politically beneficial, and, as justification for even more sweeping and radical policy changes, there’s no escaping the fact that their hardline deterrence approach has failed and their choices have created a pressure cooker.
Below are five ways the Trump administration created this manufactured crisis at the border:
1. Slashed aid and support to the Northern Triangle countries of Central America by 40%. As Reuters summarized, “In 2016, the United States provided some $131 million in aid to Guatemala, $98 million to Honduras, and $68 million to El Salvador, according to U.S. data. By next year, those sums were projected to fall to $69 million for Guatemala, $66 million for Honduras and $46 million for El Salvador – a reduction of almost 40 percent for the three nations.”
2. Dismantled regional refugee reception and processing centers in Central America: Efforts by the Obama administration in 2016 to work with the UNHCR (the UN High Commission for Refugees) to set up refugee reception and processing centers in the region have dried up under Trump, with just 525 refugees resettled in the U.S. from all of Latin America in fiscal year 2018. The State Department and DHS have not taken up the recent offer by UNHCR to work with the countries in the region — mostly notably, Mexico and Costa Rica — to improve their own capacity to provide safe haven to those fleeing violence or to assist with refugee processing and family reunification so that those determined to be eligible are resettled in an orderly process to the United States, Canada and other countries in our hemisphere.
3. Ended the Central American Minors (CAM) program which allowed minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to be considered, while still in their home country, for refugee resettlement: In 2014, the Obama administration implemented a program — Central American Minors program (CAM) — that was intended to “to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States [from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras],” precisely what children, families, and adults are doing today. According to an LA Times interview with Doris Meissner, a former INS Commissioner, “the CAM program, as modest as it was, was always an effort to create a safer way of coming to the United States for people who actually had an eligibility to come. Cutting that off simply worsens what it is [the Trump administration] say that they’re trying to deter.” Other experts echo Meissner’s views.
4. Gutted asylum rules and processes: Trump has made the existing situation worse, leaving Central Americans fleeing violence and destitution with few options for seeking asylum besides coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, Trump is determined to make it virtually impossible to apply for asylum at the border and has gutted related rules and protections.
5. Whipped up fears and lies to escalate and inflame the situation: From Trump’s pre-election fear-mongering over the caravan to his current depiction of the caravan as filled with “stone cold criminals” and his current defense of the use of tear gas as “very safe,” President Trump continues to inflame the situation through lies, exaggerations, and hardline policies that are making the existing situation worse.
According to Matt Hildreth, Political Director of America’s Voice, “Americans voted in November for leaders who will bring us together to address our challenges through pragmatic and humane solutions. The public knows that spreading fears and lies doesn’t fix anything. But once again, the divide and distract politics of Donald Trump are creating a humanitarian crisis at the border. The United States once had an orderly process which governed our refugee system at the border, but President Trump replaced it with complete dysfunction, chaos, and lawlessness.”