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Trump is Failing at the Border Because His Strategy Is Simplistic and Wrong-headed

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A Complex Situation Requires a Multi-Pronged Approach

As a federal judge in San Francisco blocks the Trump administration’s asylum ban and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lies that migrants are rushing the border, it is time for America to deal realistically and responsibly to the challenge of refugees and migrants leaving Central America.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Trump and his team operate from the simplistic assumption that the best way to deal with Central American migration is to ‘get tough’ on the U.S.-Mexico border. No wonder their approach keeps failing. The complex dynamics of people fleeing countries besieged by gang violence, femicide, corrupt governments and economic destitution require a multi-pronged approach. We need to address the reasons people leave their home countries; we need a regional approach to safe haven and international resettlement; and we need a robust and fair asylum system that allows those with credible cases to be released to family and guided by case management programs that have been proven effective. This is the way forward for our nation, not asylum bans, deployed troops, concertina wire, family separation, gutted asylum standards and indefinite detention. Let’s give people a reason to stay where they want to stay, protect and resettle those who can’t go home, make sure life-and-death asylum decisions are made carefully and fairly, and let’s do so in the context of a system that has integrity.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post Rick Barton, former assistant U.S. Secretary of State and formerly the Deputy High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee Agency, recommends the following approaches to attacking root cases:

As the first arrivals from the latest Central American caravan reach the U.S. southern border, it is high time for the Trump administration to move from crisis mode to pro-active planning.

To begin, Washington must acknowledge the gang war that is engulfing Central America. The region sees some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and many of those fleeing their homes are driven north by this violence. They have a “well-founded fear of persecution” and thus qualify as refugees. Washington must give them the protections and rights of the international agreements it helped create.

… In addition to treating migrants with dignity, the United States must address the root cause of the migration: the violence. One way is to encourage Central American governments to broker more peace deals between rival gangs. Back in 2012, I met with El Salvador’s minister of security, David Munguia Payes. A former general and now minister of defense, Munguia Payes was known as a “mano dura,” a hardliner. He spoke about the “war” between the two major gangs and supported a negotiated truce. It was of course an imperfect deal and it held for only 18 months. But during that time, it reduced homicide rates from 15 per day to less than five and is credited with saving over 5,000 lives.

Alongside this top-down approach, the United States must mobilize citizens and local civil society to reestablish public safety. In Honduras, the United States started partnering in 2012 with the Alliance for Peace and Justice, a coalition of dozens of civil society groups. During this time, Washington helped the alliance report and collect data on the violence, vet and purge the police force of corrupt officials, generate momentum to replace a lackluster attorney general and implement new laws for safer streets. During the 2013 Honduran presidential race, the U.S. assisted local groups in building television and radio campaigns to pressure candidates to focus on crime.

… All of these initiatives are positive steps forward, but they need expansion. Those who lead these efforts are only a few and they often become targets of established forces. Take the extra-judicial killing of indigenous organizers in Guatemala, seeking to protect their historic lands. The government has yet to pursue those who murdered them.

… Finally, the United States must restore the rule of law at its own borders, starting with the processing of over a half million pending asylum claims. This is justice delayed. Let’s call on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration to assist with the backlog. Let’s mobilize our own civil society to move families of asylum seekers from detention centers and private prisons to private homes by promoting and subsidizing “Host a Family” programs, at a fraction of the $300 or more per day that it costs to detain them. The United States could also join with Mexico’s new government to expand temporary worker programs.

There are so many good options. Combining American ingenuity with local initiatives, and enforcing the rule of law, will reduce violence in the region. That should spare us more chaos and discord within our country.