Trump’s false narrative of chaos at the border

As asylum-seekers flee to the U.S., misguided immigration policies proliferate.

 

Este artículo también está disponible en Español aquí.

California is often the first state in the West to test new solutions to social and environmental problems. These days, the state is at the fore of a much more ambitious challenge, as it finds its progressive ideals — and its increasingly diverse citizenry — in frequent opposition to the policies of President Donald Trump. Every month, in the Letter from California, we chronicle efforts in the state to grapple with its role in the changing, modern West. 

In 2010, back when I covered the border region for public radio, I visited a shelter for migrants, a modest building located a mile away, just south of the fence separating San Diego and Tijuana. There, recent deportees could find a bed for a few nights after Customs and Border Protection agents released them in Mexico. That’s where I met 34-year-old Verónica Vargas, a mother of two from Los Angeles, who’d been deported after a domestic violence incident. At the local jail, police checked both her and her husband’s immigration status and soon after, processed both for deportation. The couple’s youngest child, 7, remained under the care of their oldest, 18, back in their Los Angeles apartment.

“There’s nothing I can do about it now,” Vargas told me, in a dispirited, barely audible voice. “We are here and our children are there, and they really need us.” Vargas, who told me she’d been living in the U.S. for more than 20 years without a criminal record, added that Tijuana was not even her home. All she could think about now, she said, was finding a way back into the States to be with her daughters. The possibility of arrest, fines or another deportation was no deterrent; she wanted to be with her children. “I’ll try to cross back into the U.S. tomorrow, and as many times as I’ll need to.”

The stretch of land between Tijuana and San Diego was then — and is now — the most surveilled part of the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border. Yet smuggling goes on anyway: People and drugs find new ways into the U.S., while guns cross in the opposite direction. Crossing illegally is increasingly dangerous and costly for everyone involved, but no amount of reinforcement can possibly stop this flow. Nor will political theater — including the kind that is paving the way for National Guard troops to be stationed at the border.

Members of a caravan of Central Americans that spent weeks traveling across Mexico walk from Mexico to the U.S. side of the border to ask authorities for asylum. On April 29, 2018, more than 300 immigrants, the remnants of those that journeyed across Mexico, reached the border in Tijuana, Mexico to apply for legal entry into the United States.
David McNew/Getty Images

Last month, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis approved deploying up to 4,000 National Guard troops to “seal up our Southern Border,” as President Donald Trump announced on Twitter. Troops from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas would support U.S. Customs and Border Protection — without being permitted to arrest migrants or interact with them directly — through Sept. 30, 2018, which is when, in theory, Trump will have managed to come up with the funds to finally build his border wall.

But here’s the thing: There is no such thing as a “crisis” at the border. What we are witnessing is a rise in the number of people seeking asylum in the U.S., and doing so without receiving due process. That includes the caravan of more than 1,100 Honduran migrants, most of them families with children, whose well-publicized trek to the U.S. prompted Trump’s call for the National Guard. These migrants did not come to scale any walls; they came to ask for U.S. asylum at the border, as several dozen of them reportedly already have.

Illegal crossings are currently at a 46-year low — down 71 percent in May 2017 from 2014’s peak, when Customs and Border Protection records show that it detained almost 69,000 people. So the extra troops are most likely unnecessary. But, as previous deployments demonstrate, they will be very expensive. In 2006, President George W. Bush stationed the National Guard at the border for two years at a cost of $1.2 billion. After the mission, Army National Guard Commander Maj. David M. Church said the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, had not communicated effectively with the Guard and gave him little time for preparation. Then, in 2010, President Barack Obama ordered a similar deployment to “help reduce drug and human trafficking.” That cost an estimated $110 million, and, according to the Government Accountability Office, the results did not justify the price tag.

There’s no telling how much Trump’s National Guard deployment will cost, or even what it will be able to accomplish. California Gov. Jerry Brown, D, joined the other border states’ governors in pledging to send 400 troops, but he made sure to curb their role. “This will not be a mission to build a new wall,” he wrote in a public letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mattis. “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.” Unlike the other border states, California’s National Guard troops won’t be allowed to use equipment to report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, operate radios or provide “mission support.

Back in January 2017, Trump signed an executive order that promised to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall, “monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” This was followed by more mandates targeting refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, undocumented immigrants without criminal records, and sanctuary policies, especially California’s.

More than a year since that executive order, the $18 billion needed for Trump’s wall has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, we’re left with an increasingly isolated nation, one that is simmering with fear and anger, and ready to expel immigrants — mothers, children, asylum-seekers, Muslims — under the false narrative of chaos at the border.

Contributing editor Ruxandra Guidi writes from Los Angeles, California.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.