Cruelty was supposed to keep them away – that was President Trump’s plan. But they are there anyway, thousands of Central Americans amassed along the southern U.S. border.

So what do we do now?

The president has chosen more cruelty, with a side of demogoguery. On Monday, he told a crowd in Mississippi that border agents were “very badly hurt” during an incident over the weekend in which agents fired tear gas at migrants, although there were no injuries. The president also said without evidence that the caravan is filled with “criminals and gang members” and child traffickers.

As he has said before, this is not a group of vulnerable people who deserve humane treatment – this is an “invasion.”

Yet it really is a crisis of his own making. On Sunday, hundreds of migrants kept in limbo by the Trump administration tried to rush the border, some throwing rocks, prompting border agents to fire tear gas at the crowd, sending men, women and children scrambling.

In Mississippi, Trump defended the tear-gassing. “Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “Nobody’s coming into our country unless they come in legally.”

And that’s just it: The migrants are not entering the country illegally. At least that’s not their intention.

The migrants in the caravan are here for the same reason as thousands of other Central Americans who have arrived at the border in recent years – they are seeking asylum from the gang-fueled violence and political corruption that grip their home countries.

U.S. and international law allows foreign nationals to apply for asylum once on U.S. soil, and requires the U.S. to process their claim. If they are found to be in “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home country, their application moves forward. If not, they are deported.

From the beginning, the Trump administration has tried to bring that process to a halt. To deter asylum seekers, it has separated parents and children who arrived at the border. It has sought to detain families indefinitely – something the courts shot down when Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, tried it. It has detained unaccompanied teens at an unprecedented rate and in poor conditions.

And now the administration has slowed the asylum process to a trickle. Over the weekend, only 40 people a day were being allowed to apply, frustrating the thousands of migrants who have arrived at the border seeking to make their case for asylum, an opportunity guaranteed to them by law. On Sunday, that frustration boiled over.

Unfortunately, we can only expect more conflicts like the one this weekend. The migrants have come despite Trump’s rhetoric and his immigration-stifling policies. Deterrence isn’t working because their home countries are dangerous and a dead end, while the U.S. holds promise. Now the situation is at a standstill – the migrants can’t go home, and they’re not being allowed across the border. More are on their way.

Against all evidence, Trump has continued to say the caravan and others like it are a danger to the U.S. He continues to make the case for shutting down the border.

But that is not the answer. Central America needs long-term solutions, and the United States could help encourage investment in them. The Trump administration could put more resources toward processing asylum claims, and widen a Obama-era pilot program for making sure asylum seekers show up for court dates once released.

Those would be reasonable steps toward ending a crisis that won’t be solved by walls or tear gas.

But once you’ve called something an “invasion,” reasonable steps won’t do. Instead, Trump wants more cruelty. We already know it won’t work.

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