President Trump is apparently sending some 5,000 troops to the Mexican border in order to confront the caravan of people arriving from the south. One would need considerable optimism to think that it is going to go well.
Trump talks in terms of an “invasion”. But it is not like an invasion in the ordinary sense. These caravan people are not soldiers, but economic migrants. It’s really not on to shoot them dead, even for Trump, and so for the troops, their rifles are presumably going to be useless.
Some of the caravan people, perhaps many of them, might well claim asylum. Whilst they might well be asylum seekers, it is doubtful that any but a tiny proportion will be found to be entitled to asylum, and so after the US government spends a lot of time and money on them, they will presumably be sent back across the border. And then what happens?
It is not difficult to imagine that vast shantytowns will emerge on the Mexican side of the border, much like in Calais only much worse. It is hard to imagine that the Mexicans will bulldoze these down (as the French did in Calais); it is more likely that both the Mexicans and the flopsies from the United States will provide them with food, water and other aid.
They will have children who are sick, and will need medical assistance. If the Australian experience of offshore detention is anything to go by, newspapers like the Washington Post will carry stories day after day about how heartless it is to leave these people in such desperate conditions. There will be hundreds of photographs of small children, with their sad faces poking through the bars of President Trump’s wall. Public opinion will be split even more than it is today between those who prioritise border security and those who prioritise compassion.
Islands like the UK and Australia are fortunate, in that the sea provides a natural barrier. Continental Europe and the USA face a much bigger problem. Continental Europe is enjoying some relief as a result of warfare in the Middle East, such that the Mediterranean cannot easily be circumvented. With its Mexican border, the USA enjoys no such relief.
The trouble with the compassionate solution, of course, is that it makes the problem worse. The better economic migrants are treated, the more will come. Some might think that it is okay for the world to turn itself into one big global village, where anyone can live anywhere. But it is improbable to imagine that the United States could possibly tolerate such a solution. Even in Germany, where the Greens are strong, Mrs Merkel appears to have signed her own political death warrant by letting in a moderate number of economic migrants.
Probably, the border security considerations will prevail in the United States, which will have to “tough it out”. It is unlikely to be pretty.