"Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States."
Mexico and the U.S. are now engaged in a humanitarian game of Hot Potato with thousands of asylum-seeking migrants who entered our southern neighbor illegally and want to come to this country--illegally. This game will have few winners and threatens to spiral into a crisis if not handled properly, if it's not a crisis already. (Does tear gas necessarily equate to crisis?)
Last weekend saw mixed reports about who would keep these migrants in the short term with The Washington Post reporting that Mexico's incoming government had agreed to a deal in which it temporarily hosted the migrants while their asylum claims were processed in El Norte. Not long after that, the Associated Press reported Mexico's incoming government said the deal didn't exist.
Either way, Americans now have thousands of caravaners at their southern doorstep. And some Mexicans are unhappy with their arrival. Take, for example, Tijuana residents who have already started to protest the thousands of migrants filling their streets.
CNN, not exactly a right-wing Republican propaganda organ, featured a long segment on the southern border Monday morning. It reported that the group sent out women and children to the front, the better to get the worst from any border guards. Chivalry is dead. And when these women and children got a whiff of tear gas, if not grapeshot, the media dutifully reported on the Unfolding Trump Disaster.
Except that CNN let through somebody in charge of the border guard, who was furious with the group for its tactics. Which included stoning his men. And when the women-and-children-first tactic didn't work, and the stonings proved weak, several young able-bodied men made a run for it, and tried to jump the wall to this country. That didn't work, either.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young socialist just elected U.S. representative from New York, compared the migrants along the border with Jews fleeing the Holocaust, which might provide another lesson from that time: If you shouldn't compare anybody to Hitler who isn't actually talking about the killing of millions of people, then maybe we shouldn't compare daily crises to the Holocaust. Maybe, if for no other reason, because it's unseemly.
But, believe it or not, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have come close to the best point that her side has in this argument. She may or may not know it, but to many of us on the starboard side of American politics, the plight of people fleeing persecution touches upon the rare soft spot.
But that doesn't trump law and order.
The story goes like this: The refugees were desperate. They worried about themselves and their children.
Would they have to go back to their country, or would America, that global beacon, finally open her arms?
The American economy hadn't completely recovered from the Bad Years, and could always reverse course. So American citizens asked why should they take even more immigrants than they already have every year? As the popular man on the radio said, every refugee who comes here takes a job from a real American.
Americans felt bad for what was happening and all, but charity starts at home, right?
Besides, those people didn't even speak English, much less American. How were they going to fit in among all of us good church-going citizens?
The year was 1939. And the talk around kitchen tables, radios, and newspaper columns was all about the refugees on The St. Louis.
That trans-Atlantic ocean liner, with almost 1,000 Jews on board, left Hamburg with a German ship captain, Gustav Schroeder, determined to do what he could for these people. The date was May 13, 1939, a good day to leave Germany. The captain (later given the title of Righteous Among the Nations) steered his ship toward the Americas. His passengers didn't realize it till they got to Cuba that the government there had changed the rules while they were a-sea, and their documents wouldn't allow most of them to land.
The ship sailed to Miami and along the American coast, where the Coast Guard kept the boat far enough away that it couldn't land so that its people could apply for asylum. Eventually, the boat had to make its way back to Europe, and death for many of its passengers.
This was not a good moment for the United States government or the FDR administration.
Whenever a crisis comes in the modern immigration debate, some of us are reminded of The St. Louis. But can the current would-be migrants in Tijuana be compared to that ship's passengers?
The Jews aboard the ship in 1939 had their paperwork in order. They were following the rules. They were coming legally to the Americas. It wasn't their fault that public relations concerns among the Cuban government made their papers invalid. Some of them, with dual citizenship, were allowed to debark in Havana anyway.
The folks aboard the ship didn't announce their intentions to enter another country illegally, then sue to do just that. They didn't throw rocks at border guards or put their women and children in danger. One Associated Press headline earlier this week read: "Caravan marches toward U.S. border in show of force." That's not exactly a request. There is a matter of degree to these things.
Many of us moderns do have heart-felt concerns for those at the American border. But there are legal ways to enter this country. And throwing bottles and rocks at us isn't part of that.
So we continue this game of Hot Potato with Mexico. Mexico doesn't want to be responsible for these thousands of migrants, and the United States government certainly has no desire to just let them all across the border willy-nilly.
The pragmatic solution likely lies with the UN setting up refugee-like centers with adequate shelter, food and medical care on the Mexican side of the border while American border services and the courts continue to process claims. Neither nation will be 100 percent responsible for thousands that illegally traveled north in violation of sovereign laws and borders, but these people still should be treated humanely. We have our souls to think about.
The Estados Unidos must have two goals: To make sure these migrants have what they need to survive--food, shelter, diapers, blankets and medicine. But also to send a message to other would-be caravaners that stampeding is not a sure path to citizenship or even residency in the United States. If a body has a valid asylum claim, by all means apply. Otherwise, wait your turn in line--like every other law-abiding individual who wants to enter our country.
An open-borders policy isn't humanitarian. It's a slap in the face to those who jumped through every hoop in our system to get here legally--and to our own citizens who expect their government to provide them with a safe nation of enforced laws--and guide us, through the night with the light from above.
Editorial on 11/28/2018
Print Headline: Law and order