Ramon Espinosa, AP
In this Nov. 25, 2018 file photo, migrants walk up a riverbank at the Mexico-U.S. border after getting past a line of Mexican police at the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, as they try to reach the U.S.

The constant clanging and banging of political rhetoric in Washington can make it hard to hear what’s really going on at the southern border, which is a burgeoning humanitarian crisis fueled by conditions in Central America.

President Donald Trump is threatening to close the border unless the migration stops. That won’t help any of the people — many of them families with children — who are desperate to escape their circumstances. Nor will it solve the problem. He has tried tough and, at times, inhumane policies, such as separating children from parents. But no one seems to be deterred.

Administration policies may actually be making matters worse as opportunistic criminals work to convince desperate families they have to cross the border now before it becomes harder to do so. Washington’s policy of having asylum-seekers wait in Mexico may be spurring many of them to come here at all costs.

The answer is to treat this surge of migrants as a humanitarian crisis — one that, we add, should have been foreseen. That does not mean building a wall to keep them out. It means applying greater resources to the border, erecting temporary, safe, sanitary and humane holding centers to handle the influx. It means providing more resources to speed up an asylum process that can take years. It means using FEMA to respond the way it would to a hurricane or other natural disaster.

A report by politico.comsays border patrol may end up detaining more than 55,000 people in March alone, most of them in families. That would be the largest total since officials began keeping track in 2012, and the surge shows no sign of stopping.

But these groups are different than before. Traditionally, border crossers were Mexican men and unaccompanied migrants who easily could be repatriated. The current groups are from Central American countries, and federal law is not clear on how they should be deported.

Critics say the Department of Homeland Security has done little to adapt to the needs of this different population, still using small concrete holding cells built to contain single men who were to be repatriated quickly. Also, the department is not prioritizing the migrants or using any orderly system to process them.

37 comments on this story

Much of the political rhetoric is unhelpful to this situation, as it prevents cooperation and common-sense strategies. It is, however, grounded in some truth. Members of Congress may rail against the president, but they have done little to rewrite immigration laws in ways that would handle these situations better. The president’s insistence on a border wall, meanwhile, has diverted attention from the real humanitarian issues at hand.

Studies have shown most migrants are not dangerous. They consist of families escaping violence and poverty, looking for better lives.

Certainly, the United States cannot open its southern borders to all comers. But there is little excuse for not processing this wave of migrants in an orderly and humane manner. Turning the lives of desperate people who yearn for freedom into political talking points is unconscionable.