Democrats Need to Talk About the Caravan

(The Bloomberg View) -- By one estimate, a caravan of some 7,000 migrants from Central America is marching north through Mexico, heading for the U.S. border. A collision seems imminent. Thoughtful solutions are scarce.

Principles first. The U.S. border and the immigration laws that defend it are necessary pillars of U.S. sovereignty. Marching on the U.S. border is misguided and dangerous; those who attempt it should understand that it does not result in automatic admission or asylum. Entry into the U.S. is a privilege, not a right.

In response to the march, President Donald Trump has tweeted his intention to deploy the U.S. military to “close our Southern border.” He’s also threatened to halt U.S. aid to the governments concerned as punishment for failing to block the caravan.

And in response to the president? Well, Democrats have been ominously silent. This is a mistake — and an abdication of responsibility. Democrats, who are trying to make the case for their ascension in the midterm elections, need to make clear that they agree with Trump on the need for a secure border and that they are prepared to work with him to ensure that it remains so.

The first step ought to be straightforward. Democrats should call on the marchers to turn back, far and away the best solution. In this, they ought not to shrink from saying they agree with the president.

In addition, they need answers if the caravan keeps coming. Apart from supporting the president on the principle of the border’s integrity — about which there should be no disagreement — the Democrats need to insist that the situation be managed in a way that is consistent with the country’s laws and best traditions.

That means processing the marchers under the same provisions as ordinary applicants for asylum. It requires compelling marchers to wait their turn at the border. And it involves working with the Border Patrol, law enforcement and possibly the military to prepare for a disorderly line numbering in the thousands.

All this can be managed in a logical, thoughtful way — without cheap threats of strong-arm tactics. In this regard, Democrats have an opportunity to remind Trump (not that he will listen) that America has never been built on a blanket “no.” The country’s strength is derived from the fact that it has been home to those in peril. This does not mean open borders but a smart and lawful methodology for determining who should be allowed entry.

Democrats can also underscore the importance of looking beyond the political moment and toward actual remedies. U.S. aid can help stabilize Central American countries, giving people fewer reasons to flee. U.S. leadership can call out feckless leaders, who have profited from corruption, stolen elections, and been unwilling to provide for their citizens. From this perspective, the Trump administration has failed — by cutting foreign aid and by looking the other way during Honduras’s flawed 2017 vote and Guatemala’s attempts to stymie corruption investigations.

It’s plain that Trump is cynically exploiting the marchers’ plight, urging his supporters to “blame the Democrats” for their presence and painting them as the party of unconstrained immigration and criminal chaos. But if this benighted tactic serves the Republicans’ electoral purposes, it will be partly because Democrats let it.

Democrats are right to demand compassion for the migrants. But they will be failing the test of leadership if they seem to say the border doesn’t matter or if they cede the governing to Trump. The caravan is coming, and they’ve given no sign that they know what to do.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

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