A humanitarian crisis is building along our southern border. President Trump seems intent on making it worse.

Migrants from Central America are arriving at the border in increasing numbers, and overwhelming the immigration system. In March, there were 100,000 arrests and denials of entry at the border, more than half of them families.

That’s far more than Border Patrol has the capacity or will to process. As a result, 13,400 migrants are in custody; the agency considers 4,000 high. Never ideal, the conditions they are kept in have worsened; last week, after receiving criticism, Border Patrol shut down a makeshift holding pen, surrounded by fencing and barbed wire, created under a bridge in El Paso, Texas.

Also as a result, more migrants are entering the country illegally, and Trump is moving hundreds of border workers from inspecting cargo and vehicles – key to both commerce and drug interdiction – to processing migrants.

BORDER CRISIS

The problem at the border is both immediate and long term.

Most of the migrants arriving in recent years have been from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gang violence and political corruption have stamped out economic opportunity and put many lives at risk. Most are here to apply for asylum, a process clearly spelled out in federal and international law.

Thus the United States has a moral and legal obligation to process the migrants fairly, humanely and in a timely manner, and to grant asylum where it is appropriate. If anyone wants to change that, take the debate to Congress.

Over the long term, the United States must take steps to stop the flow of migrants.

In this area, the Trump administration’s policy has been to make the act of migration as difficult and cruel as possible. They’ve pressured Mexico to target migrants along that country’s southern border, making an already perilous journey all the more perilous. They’ve purposely slowed down migrant processing so migrants have been forced into dangerous temporary living situations along the border. They’ve separated children from their parents with no plan for how to reunite them.

Still, the number of migrants keeps going up – even such a hard and dangerous trip is worth even the slightest chance at a life in the United States, or at least one away from their violent home countries.

AID EFFECTIVE

That’s why it makes such little sense that President Trump says he is ending aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The $450 million a year the U.S. sends to that area goes toward development, humanitarian and joint law enforcement efforts that target directly the systemic corruption and inequality that plague those countries — and force their citizens to flee north.

U.S. aid is one reason the number of migrants from El Salvador was cut in half from 2016 to 2018, at the same time the country’s homicide rate was declining sharply.

What’s more, experts say the loss of U.S. aid will only weaken U.S. influence. It may send Guatemala and Honduras looking elsewhere for funding, perhaps to China or Russia. It also could accelerate the Central American countries’ descent into authoritarianism.

Also last week, Trump threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico, the third-largest market for U.S. goods. His administration is now slowly walking back that trainwreck of an idea.

Let’s hope the president does the same with his threat on aid. Cutting funding for the troubled countries won’t make the migrants stop any more than the abject cruelty at the border has. A border wall, too, wouldn’t be much help.

The only thing that will stop the Central American migration is a better Central America.

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