President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE could be a transformative president on immigration, if he wanted to be. I realize that is a shocking statement coming from someone who’s been highly critical of Trump on immigration — from the day he announced his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, to every time that he has denigrated or demonized immigrants simply to rile up his anti-immigrant base.
Which happens a lot.
In fact, it is because of his draconian rhetoric and occasional — although not very credible — compassion toward Dreamers that he could succeed. He could grab this highly divisive issue, put a bipartisan deal on the table — the parameters of which already exist and have been robustly debated for years — and resolve immigration once and for all, something that has eluded his Republican and Democratic predecessors.
But Trump needs to want to do that. And this weekend’s arrival of the much-covered “migrant caravan,” making its way to the U.S. border from Central America for weeks, demonstrates in no uncertain terms that the president has no interest in resolving the issue.
He has no interest in finding a way to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, and those who still seek to come here to work, to seek asylum and refuge. He has no interest in working with our Mexican counterparts and those in Central America to find a way to stem the flow north, to disable the economic and security magnet by continuing to grow the economies of these countries, to fight the gang violence and poverty that many of the members of the caravans are fleeing.
The way Trump speaks about the situation on the border betrays not only a sad lack of empathy and understanding for what these migrants are going through and the reality of what they are fleeing, it shows an infuriating lack of knowledge about our own immigration laws, their impact, and what can and should be done to change them.
It seems President Trump is only interested in continuing to use the immigration situation to his own advantage, as applause lines at his rallies and by using them as scapegoats and to perpetuate a draconian view of immigrants that is neither American nor can be sustained with empirical evidence.
Let’s take a closer look at Trump’s rhetoric and the facts.
Donald Trump talks about the rampant violence and the havoc that MS-13 gang members wreak on their communities. He would be right if he were talking about the countries of origin of these criminal gang members. In fact, the violence that MS-13 is raining upon Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua is a big reason why the “migrant caravan” started to make its way to the U.S. in the first place.
But Trump is wrong when he tries to paint a picture of these gang members’ effect on violent crime here in the United States. Have these criminals killed here in the U.S.? Sure — and they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But, by and large, the undocumented population commits crimes at a far lower rate than the American native-born population.
Trump describes the members of the “migrant caravans” as if they are violent criminals who are coming to the country to do us harm. Most of the members of the caravan are women, children and families who are fleeing violence and extreme poverty, who want only to have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their children.
These desperate migrants did not wake up one day and say to themselves, “I think it would be fun to go to the United States today.” It does not happen that way. These are human beings who are pushed to the brink to leave their home countries, everything and everyone they know, to go to a foreign land where they do not speak the language and with the knowledge that the journey is so treacherous it could claim their lives or those of their children. And if they are lucky enough to make it to the border, they know there is a good chance they will be turned away.
It takes courage to make that kind of choice. But that is what parents do, in the face of death threats from MS-13 in their countries and a grim future with nothing but want and starvation on the horizon. They do not come here for fun or to live off the public dole. They come here out of necessity, with the intention of working hard to earn the living they cannot earn back home.
Trump crows that our immigration laws are “so weak,” painting a picture of these migrants rolling up to the border at their discretion. Yes, our immigration system is broken. Yes, we need a complete overhaul of our laws. But these migrants who make up the caravan are adhering to our asylum laws, which are quite strong — some would say too selective. Most of these migrants will not qualify for asylum and will indeed be sent back.
These are not marauding killers overrunning our borders. They are humans in need. And we are the greatest, richest country in the world, whose greatness was built by immigrants and whose richness is vast enough to accommodate us all — if we have the political will to put in place the needed reforms.
Our president has the power to change our immigration laws and make history. This could be his Nixon-in-China moment. But it won’t be. Trump is more interested in building his unnecessary wall than in heeding history’s call.
I hope he proves me wrong. I doubt he will.
Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.