Monday, April 8, 2019

The Boy Who Cried "Invasion!"

The Los Laureles water reservoir, which supplies water to the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, except not when it doesn't have any water, as in this photo taken 10 March (by Orlando Sierra/AFP).

Cute headline from the Washington Post:
Power Up: Nielsen's ouster signals even tougher Trump border rhetoric

Rhetoric alert! We can expect severe invective storms over the next few weeks, with frequent outbreaks of junior-high sarcasm, malicious lies, and sweeping stereotypes.

One of the things about Trump's border policy that's not getting enough attention is that, while we're knee deep in rhetoric, the policy itself has been a huge fail in its own terms, in its key aim of discouraging asylum applicants from Central America, now arriving in record numbers and overwhelming the border authorities, who are driven to expedients like that El Paso encampment of the end of March:

The makeshift encampment under the bridge, where immigration officials are detaining hundreds of migrants in a military tent with little hot food, was set up last week after the main border processing center in El Paso reached up to 400 percent of its capacity in the largest influx of migrants to the United States in years....
For months, the federal authorities knew that this spring was likely to set records, but only now is it becoming apparent how big the numbers will be. Apprehensions already dwarf the numbers of five years ago... when the arrival of the first migrant families from Central America transformed the nature of immigration along the southern border.
“The current surge was totally predictable and the Trump administration chose not to prepare for it. Instead it launched a raft of harsh deterrence measures that were totally ineffective,” said Wayne Cornelius, a migration scholar at the University of California, San Diego.
Ironically,  the administration has been forced to drop its signature "zero tolerance" policy and gone back to the traditional "catch and release" approach, the thing Trump has howled over the most, of sending asylum applicants out to stay with sponsors, mostly family members living legally in the US, to await their court hearings, but they're not even doing it right; instead they are just dumping people where they can and hoping private organizations will find the sponsors for them:
With immigrant processing and holding centers overwhelmed, the administration is busing people hundreds of miles inland and releasing them at Greyhound stations and churches in cities like Albuquerque, San Antonio and Phoenix because towns close to the border already have more than they can handle.
Relief organizations in some cities are struggling to feed and house the migrants and warning that a public health crisis is taking shape, especially with sick infants and children among the many immigrant families who need medical attention.
The situation is finally turning into something like the disaster Trump has been screaming about since his campaign—something comparable to an invasion—and his administration's policies are doing nothing to stop it.

Which is why he fired the DHS secretary Kirst Jen Nielsen yesterday, in a state of what has been described as "agitation" and sounds like a tantrum:
Two senior administration officials said that Nielsen had no intention of quitting when she went to the meeting Sunday with the president and that she was forced to step down. The announcement of her departure came shortly after the meeting.
"Frustrated", as they say he's been since last fall, by her apparent unwillingness to break the law:

When Nielsen has tried to explain the laws and regulations that prevent the government from drastically curtailing immigration or closing the border with Mexico, as Trump has suggested, the president has grown impatient and frustrated, aides said. 
Why have the massive publicity blitz, the family separations and caged children, the Trumpian snarls, failed to deter these hordes? I don't want to get too radical here, but it could just be that it doesn't address the problem, if there is a problem. I mean I guess there is a problem, but the Trumpy view, that there are bad people crossing the border because they're bad and have to be frightened into submission, doesn't seem to cover it.

One thing that's leading to the migration surge from Central America is something the Trump administration doesn't care to contemplate, global warming, together with an El Niño event, which was threatening food security for almost three million people by last September, added on to gang rule and incompetent government to make life in those countries more intolerable than ever:

Lower than average rainfall in June and July has led to major crop losses for small-scale maize and bean farmers in Central America’s “Dry Corridor”, which runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
This means subsistence farmers will not have enough food to eat or sell in the coming months, and have no food supplies to see them through the lean time between harvests.
“Climate-related disasters are clearly becoming more frequent and causing more damage,” Miguel Barreto, WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
“Projected temperature increases and rainfall shortages in the Dry Corridor are of particular concern.”... Even if El Nino turns out to be weak, it will have a significant impact on the outcome of the second food crop harvest in November, worsening the plight faced by farmers, the FAO and WFP said.
The El Niño has turned out to be "moderate" but that's bad enough; the public water supply is turned off three out of four days in Tegucigalpa, and residents have to buy water from tankers the rest of the time, to say nothing of a plague of crop-destroying pests brought on by warner temperatures. Trump's threats don't do anything to make people in the Dry Corridor feel any more comfortable where they are. Food aid would make a difference, obviously, but cutting off aid won't, even if he only does it rhetorically, by Twitter, and then backs off, as he seems to have done for the moment. Or especially if he does it only rhetorically, because everybody's getting more used to the idea that his threats don't mean much of anything, and that includes threats on how they will be treated at the border—what they're hearing from friends and relatives over the phone is that if you're tough enough you will almost certainly get into the States sooner or later regardless of what that blowhard says.

Another thing is the response of the Mexican government since the accession of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected as the first leftist president in many decades in part because his predecessor was thought to have been too accommodating to Trump, and who has been coming through on campaign promises to be more welcoming to the Central Americans:
During his tenure, he has sought to strike a contrast with his predecessors by presenting a kinder, gentler face toward migrants. Deportations have plummeted under his watch, and his administration has sought to incorporate more migrants into Mexican society by being more generous with humanitarian visas and work permits.
That influx into Mexico wasn't meant to increase pressure on the US border, but it has done so, because many of these migrants still want to go to the States, where they have family and friends living in real Central American neighborhoods, which is not the case in Mexico, and of course the ancient American dream of getting rich and then going back home to lord it over the old village, which is what just about everybody is always expecting in the first generation, except for the revolutionaries and the Jews.

But Trump's belligerent and irrational reaction to AMLO, threatening to close the border altogether, or impose tariffs on vehicle imports (even as he awaits congressional ratification of the neo-NAFTA treaty which will forbid tariffs on vehicle imports from Mexico), an obvious bluff even if Mick Mulvaney tells you it's not, is dealing with it in a sure-to-fail way, and that's a ridiculous foreign policy failure.

In 2014 there was a similar-sized crisis at the border, that time mainly with unaccompanied children rather than whole families mobbing the entry points, and a few weeks of horrifying pictures of kids in bad accommodations waiting to be processed out to their sponsors, and in fact the crisis was quietly eased, with a minimum of suffering. Trump isn't the cause of everything bad that's happening right now, but everything he does, and above all the impotent noise he makes (the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt's advice, speaking loudly and waving an imaginary stick), make it all much worse.

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