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Warning to Trump: Caravan focus could backfire and cost Republicans in the midterms

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© Rodrigo Abd/AP Central Americans migrating in Mexico on Oct. 24, 2018.

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., USA TODAY

President Donald Trump says the Nov. 6 midterm elections should be about the caravan. 

Be careful what you wish for, Mr. President. The question of what to do about an apparent hodgepodge of more than 7,000 refugees, immigrants and returning deportees is a lot trickier than you think it is. 

Sure, the spectacle of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free taking up the Statue of Liberty on its invitation could blow Democrats’ chances at retaking the House. But what Trump doesn’t see is that, if handled incorrectly, the caravan issue could just as easily blow up in his face and perhaps even cost Republicans victories in close races.

He doesn’t see it because he doesn’t understand immigration — or anything related to it, like the refugee crisis in Central America. We’ve known this since June 15, 2015, when Trump announced his bid for the presidency by telling the world that Mexico doesn’t send its “best” people to the United States. That’s exactly who Mexico sends —doers, optimists, risk takers. They don’t get any better. 
Trump's cures are worse than the affliction

Then Trump gets elected, and he shows his ignorance about immigration again when he tries to negotiate a reform package with Congress that hinges on the end of so-called “chain migration.” That was a big ask, and Trump walked away with nothing.

I’m just amazed at how Trump manages to talk so much about people from “shithole” countries invading the United States without ever managing to mention who supports these people. It's not George Soros. It’s James Q. Public, the American employer who can’t live without the cost savings and comfort level that comes from relying on illegal immigrant labor. 

Given how little Trump knows about immigrants and refugees, it’s no wonder that some of his proposed cures sound worse than the affliction. Sending the U.S. military down to the border to fend off what many of your supporters glibly and irresponsibly call an “invasion” might make for a good soundbite. But it’s no answer.

In fact, it just tells everyone that when it comes to immigrants and refugees, you don’t even understand the questions. Soldiers and Marines aren’t cut out to be a police force doing crowd control over women and children. Nor are people holding guns the ideal choice to greet those fleeing violence and death.

Something will happen. Of that, we can be sure. Just look at those images of Mexican police in riot gear who, last week, tried to hold the line at the Mexico-Guatemalan border. The Mexican authorities sprayed tear gas at mothers holding babies. The optics were terrible. Scenes like that are going to make it hard for the Mexicans to play the moral superiority card when they lecture Americans on how to treat Mexican immigrants in the United States. 

Now Trump wants to repeat that spectacle at US-Mexico border, and this time, cast the U.S. military as the villains. Smart move.

It’s not much smarter for Trump to follow through with his other threat — cutting aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to punish them for not stopping people from leaving? Is he serious? How does a sovereign government not headed by a dictator or a rogue regime stop its own people from leaving? 

Judging from Twitter feeds, I see that many conservatives, looking for an easy way out, are suddenly rooting for the Mexicans to stop the caravan before it reaches the United States. Because if there is one group of people who want to do their amigo Donald Trump a solid at this point, it’s the Mexicans. Absorbing the caravan is a headache that Mexico doesn’t want.

The caravan is expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border in a few weeks. Should we try to turn it back? Good luck with that. Fight it out? Heaven help us. Welcome the new arrivals, and begin the legal process of seeing who qualifies for refugee status and who must be sent home? That’s the best bad option.

But there is something we need to do before these people arrive. We need to talk honestly about what fueled his mass exodus from Central America – and the one earlier this year, and the one in 2014. Why does this keep happening?
Conservatives cook up conspiracy theories

The Republicans are spending their days cooking up conspiracy theories to explain what they are recklessly calling “an invasion.” Wrong. An invasion is when people storm your country’s borders because they want to do you harm. These people want to do your lawns, your laundry, your cooking and your cleaning. 

Many of them have done it before. Based on interviews by reporters embedded in the group, we know it includes people who used to work in the United States, were deported, and are now seeking to return — in some cases, because their families are stuck on this side of the border.

Conservatives don’t care what happens to refugee families. All they care about is finding out who is “funding” this operation. From the looks of it, not much funding is required. You have a bunch of people who are marching north together across hundreds of miles rather than pay $7,000 apiece to entrust their safety to ruthless smugglers who would not hesitate to abuse or abandon them.

But even if someone is funding this caravan, to quote a former secretary of State, what difference, at this point, does it make? It doesn’t change the fact that Trump has a tough decision to make about a delicate situation that must be handled just right.  

Unfortunately, that is not Trump’s strong suit. 

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist and host of the daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @RubenNavarrette.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Warning to Trump: Caravan focus could backfire and cost Republicans in the midterms
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