First it was sending 1,000 United States Army troops to secure the Southern border with Mexico. Then 5,000. Now President Donald Trump is considering banning all Central American migrants from entering the country, including asylum-seekers, and abolishing birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants.
Yes, Trump’s manipulation of the caravan of displaced Central Americans is a classic wag-the-dog public relations gambit: fabricate a threat before an election and orchestrate a “huge” show of force to distract and mobilize your base. But publicity stunt or not, the U.S. reaction to the caravan exemplifies a broader crisis. As governments from the European Union to Australia to Tanzania to Peru deter, reroute, or otherwise prevent refugees from crossing borders, they are hollowing out one of the clearest and most essential rules of international human rights law: the obligation to provide refuge to the persecuted.
Unlike many of the claims made about them by the president and his supporters, the horrors those in the caravan face in their home countries are anything but fake. Gangs in Central America’s northern triangle—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—terrorize civilians. They target women and children for forced recruitment, extort businesses on pain of death, and use sexual violence to control the population. Governments in the region have proved incapable of keeping the population safe. These circumstances make a convincing case for the right to asylum under U.S. immigration law. Though subject to judges’ interpretations, many such asylum cases have been approved.