Protesters in Los Angeles voice their opposition to government actions on the Mexican border that punish asylum-seeking families to deter migration. Associated Press/Richard Vogel

If you want to see how we ended up with this crisis along the southern border, watch one of President Trump’s rallies.

Since announcing his candidacy three years ago, the president has described to these adoring and trusting crowds a country under siege by immigrants with bad intentions. And despite all the lies, the crowds have lapped it up – like so many before them, they were ready to fear those who are foreign and different.

Included in that audience was Jeff Sessions, now attorney general, and Stephen Miller, now the president’s policy adviser, two anti-immigration extremists who saw in Trump a man who could get them what they want: a complete overhaul of immigration policy that cuts entry both illegal and legal.

They knew his message would resonate with people who are upset and scared because the country is starting to look a little less like themselves, and they rode that message to the White House.

DISTORTED VISION

Once in power, they had to fulfill their promises. Having created a false sense that we are living in drastic times, they went next for the drastic measures.

It started with the first travel ban. Drafted by Miller with no regard for its legality, or the chaos and misery it would cause, the ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries was justified by dangers that simply don’t exist.

It has continued in a million other ways, none more consequential and horrifying than the “zero-tolerance” policy that led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their families. With Miller as its chief advocate, the policy was more than just cruel and ineffective as a deterrent.

Like the travel ban, it was poorly conceived, with no space to follow the laws related to asylum seekers, and incompetently applied, with children as young as toddlers taken by the hundreds without much of a plan to care for them, and apparently no idea how to eventually reunite them with their parents.

Most people were rightly horrified at the sight of children in cages, or the sounds of them crying for their parents. But not Trump’s most fervent supporters. In their reality, this all makes sense.

For three years now, they’ve heard about gang members – the “animals” – flowing across the border. Immigrants “infest” and “invade.” They bring “death and destruction.”

“Sixty-three thousand Americans since 9/11 have been killed by illegal aliens,” the president said this week.

NUMBERS DECREASING

Here are the facts.

In fiscal year 2017, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, just 228 out of the 303,916 migrants caught crossing the southern border were members of the MS-13 gang President Trump posits as such a great threat to national security – that’s 0.075 percent.

Those 300,000 migrants are just a fraction of the 1.64 million migrants who were caught crossing in 2000, the peak year for migration from Mexico. Most of the people crossing are families and children, fleeing gangs and violence in Central America, not people looking to bring those things here.

Pinning one-quarter of homicides on illegal immigration would be laughable if it weren’t so inflammatory. In fact, immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, commit far fewer crimes than native-born Americans.

There is no crisis; there are just immigrants at our border seeking refuge and opportunity, as there have always been.

But people were ready to hear this fiction, and Trump gave it to them. Now they want solutions, and it appears they’ll accept almost anything.

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