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Fayetteville Observer: Solutions to border crisis must change

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Central American migrants wait on the top of a parked train during their journey toward the US-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Oaxaca state, Mexico, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. The once large caravan of about 3,000 people was essentially broken up by an immigration raid on Monday, as migrants fled into the hills, took refuge at shelters and churches or hopped passing freight trains. 
 † (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Central American migrants wait on the top of a parked train during their journey toward the US-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Oaxaca state, Mexico, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. The once large caravan of about 3,000 people was essentially broken up by an immigration raid on Monday, as migrants fled into the hills, took refuge at shelters and churches or hopped passing freight trains. † (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

The Trump administration is once again looking to the American military for help securing our southern border. But this time, it appears there’s a more clear-eyed recognition of the real problem on our border with Mexico.

It’s not about terrorists or rapists. It’s not about illegal workers who want to enjoy the American economy without paying the price of admission. It’s not about illegal border crossers who need to be chased, caught and deported. It’s about people — hundreds of thousands of them — who are seeking asylum from the extreme violence and deep poverty of their native countries in Central America. Few of those trying to cross into the U.S. are Mexicans these days. Most are from countries wracked by gang and drug violence, places like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where government and the economy are weak and unable to provide for law-abiding residents.

So they’re seeking the shelter of our country. They’re arriving at our border in massive numbers, surrendering immediately to American border officials and requesting asylum. Instead of violating American law, they’re complying with it, seeking the shelter that American law offers those who legitimately need it. In a way, what we’re seeing is the same phenomenon that has inundated Europe in refugees from lawless, war-torn nations in Africa and the Middle East.

As The Washington Post reported last week, the Pentagon is moving toward a loosening of the rules that prevent troops from interacting with migrants on our border and expanding military involvement in the border crisis. But this time, we’re not talking about armed guards to tighten the borders. Rather, this is about cooks, drivers and even military lawyers to help with the enormous task of dealing with the asylum seekers. The task is daunting. Last month alone, American immigration officials processed more than 103,000 asylum-seeking migrants, the highest total for one month in more than a decade.

Immigration and Border Patrol authorities are finding it almost impossible to deal with this flood of would-be immigrants and they need help. And our military, as we know in this community, is well prepared and trained to deal with large-scale humanitarian crises. That’s one of the first-responder jobs we’ve seen Fort Bragg troops take on regularly over the years.

The Pentagon is only talking about deploying maybe 300 additional troops at this point, but if the great migration trend continues, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more called to the border.

While some critics are raising an alarm cry and fretting that highly trained American soldiers are being diverted into baby-sitting duties, we see a legitimate humanitarian crisis on our border that needs a response. But let’s be clear — this needs to be a short-term response. The larger answer lies in helping our Central American neighbors stabilize their own countries, rebuild their economies and put down the violence that is taking countless lives and destroying so many families. Until those countries are more stable, the northward exodus will continue unabated.

The president has threatened to cut off aid to those nations. The opposite action is the answer. We need to orchestrate a sort of Marshall Plan for Central America to stabilize the region. That’s what we’ve done around the world to help prevent another world war, a response that has succeeded for nearly 75 years. The president has often been critical of American aid programs, but they constitute a tiny slice of our budget and have contributed heavily to global stability.

The way to stop the flow of refugees to our southern border is to remove the reasons why families feel the need to flee. That’s an urgent job that Congress needs to undertake quickly.

The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

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