Editor’s Note: Alice Driver is a freelance journalist and translator whose work focuses on migration, human rights and gender equality. She is based in Mexico City. Driver is the author of “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico.” In this piece, Driver is using first names only, so as not to compromise any future asylum cases. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
I met Katherin and Karen, two eight-year-olds from Guatemala, at a migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, last August. They sat side by side on the playground, having traveled great distances with extended family in the hopes of being reunited with their parents, who had been living and working in the United States. If President Donald Trump, who visited McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, were to cross the border and visit Reynosa, he would find the migrant situation is quite different from the crisis he has described.
In Texas, Trump told those gathered, “They say a wall is medieval. Well, so is a wheel. There are some things that work, you know what? A wheel works, and a wall works.” The first point that needs to be made, as someone who has been writing about migration and traveling with migrants throughout Central America, is that there is no crisis. And the second is that a wall will do little to increase border security.
The reality is that illegal border crossings have been declining for years. Though at their peak in the early-2000s, they have steadily dropped ever since. The migrants who are arriving at the border are often children like Katherin and Karen, whose parents, when faced with not being able to provide for their children, migrated to the United States. Or, they are migrants, like those who I met while traveling with the migrant caravan in Mexico, who are often fleeing gang violence and want to exercise their legal right to request asylum.
Or they are members of the LGBTQ community who often must leave their home countries to survive, like Marfil Estrella Pérez Mendoza, whom I followed as she fled El Salvador in 2017. The violence that Pérez Mendoza had experienced, including being attacked with an ice pick, was well-documented, and she received asylum in the United States in 2018.
She is now enrolled at a community college in San Diego and learning English, and when I visited her there in August for a radio story for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, she said it is the first time in her life she has felt safe.
However, Trump wants every American to believe that migration is only now at its peak. On Tuesday night, he gave a nationally televised speech to spread more misinformation on the subject. But the border crisis, which he discussed, is one which he has created.
I saw it evolve over the summer of 2018, as I worked on the border for Time and National Geographic. The Trump administration had started limiting the number of asylum seekers – to the extent that families were sleeping on bridges while waiting to request asylum. Trump did the same with the child separation policy, silently testing it out before ever announcing it to American citizens. And Trump has also tried to turn the migrant caravan into a crisis, when in fact migrant caravans travel to the border every year. There is safety in numbers, and for this reason, migrants often band together to travel.
The crisis in Tijuana that migrants are experiencing now has been created by Trump – a surreal situation in which they have had US authorities fire tear gas at them across the border – and their only wish is to be able to exert their legal right to request asylum. President Trump denied that tear gas was used, despite photos and videos that prove otherwise.
There is no border crisis, except, perhaps, for the one created by Trump administration policies that have resulted in the continued separation of immigrant children and their parents and in the alleged abuse and death of an LGBTQ migrant in detention. ICE denies that Roxsana Hernández, a trans woman who died in custody, was abused while in detention.
And who can forget the two Guatemalan children who recently died in US custody. Though both deaths remain under investigation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has said she will work on ensuring migrant children are better cared for moving forward.
But even if there were a major issue of border security, building a wall would do little to keep us safer. In his first prime-time Oval Office address, Trump talked about heroin flooding across the border, suggesting that his wall could decrease drug smuggling. However, data shows that most imported heroin comes through legal points of entry. And, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, most undocumented immigrants are people who entered the country legally (often at airports) and overstayed their visas.
Trump traveled to Texas to make the case for funding the border wall, a case built on the lie that there is a border crisis. If his argument, that a wall and a wheel are medieval but effective, fails to convince Americans, he has already mentioned the likelihood that he will declare a national state of emergency, which would allow him to bypass Congress to fund the wall.
The crisis that we, as a nation, face is one of human rights. We are a country of immigrants that has held sacred the right to request asylum and has honored the contributions of immigrants to our country. If we support legal immigration, as we so often say, then we need to begin processing asylum cases and to honestly discuss the complex issues that drive it.