On Sunday, a small fraction of the thousands of Central American migrants who have been waiting — in some cases, for months — to have their asylum claims legally processed at the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, tried to sprint across the U.S. southern border, in open defiance of border patrol agents. Some reportedly threw rocks at those agents, who responded by firing tear-gas canisters at the would-be border crossers. The wind then (predictably) swept that tear gas into the eyes and mouths of many migrant families who had made no attempt to defy U.S. law.
For weeks, Donald Trump had been trying to milk high (xenophobic) drama out of a caravan of impoverished Central American women and children who were hundreds of miles from the United States. To accomplish that feat, the president was compelled to tell wild, racist lies about the asylum seekers, including that many of them were actually “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”
But this week, it looked like reality might have finally provided Trump with an alternative to defamatory demagoguery. Now that there was a genuine, violent altercation between border patrol agents and Central Americans attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border, the president could surely content himself with merely distorting and decontextualizing actual events, instead of fulminating against false ones.
Alas, there are a lot of things that Donald Trump could surely do, but does not. And so, on Monday night, the president informed reporters that three border patrol officers “were very badly hurt, getting hit with rocks and stones” during the clashes (even though the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection had said that no agents were seriously injured), and that many of the Central American “families” affected were, in truth, kidnappers trafficking stolen children (even though Trump had no evidence for that extraordinary claim).
“You really say, why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they’re running up with a child?” Trump asked. “In some cases, you know, they’re not the parents. These are people, they call them grabbers … It’s a term that’s used because, as you know, many people, it’s a very violent, horrible thing, that they feel they have an advantage when they’re with a young child, and they call them grabbers.”
As already mentioned, many migrant families who were exposed to tear gas did not run to where the chemical agent was “forming,” but rather, had the gas blown into their faces. Others, presumably, ran toward the tear gas because they wanted to reach American soil, where they would gain the right to have their asylum claims heard. There is little reason to think that any significant number of apparent mothers in the caravan are actually kidnappers. In reality, it is the Trump administration, not the caravan, that has a proven interest in the “very violent, horrible thing” of grabbing Central American children and separating them from their parents.
The president went on to assert, without evidence, that “over 500 people” traveling in migrant caravans were “serious criminals and gang members,” adding that some nefarious individual or organization was likely “organizing” the caravan, ostensibly, in a diabolical effort to destabilize the United States.
Trump’s draconian policies toward asylum seekers is already creating a political crisis for Mexico. But on Monday night, Trump wasn’t content with merely making life more difficult for America’s allies in the Western Hemisphere — he also insisted on antagonizing those in London.
Asked to opine on the Brexit agreement negotiated by his U.K. counterpart, Theresa May, Trump needlessly recited the talking points of May’s far-right critics, saying, “Sounds like a great deal for the EU.”