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President Donald Trump has spent part of the last several days issuing blustery tweets over an annual caravan of mostly Central American migrants moving northward through Mexico, many of them heading for the U.S. border. The caravan, which dates back a decade, was designed to create something of a herd approach to safety — traveling in large numbers makes it harder for criminal predators and immigration enforcers to act. But it also was conceived by the organizers, Pueblo sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) to draw attention to the plight of people fleeing violence in places such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Now President Trump has helped make their protest for them by drawing global attention to what otherwise likely would have been a minor story.

“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there,” Trump posted Tuesday morning. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen.”

Had the president paused to think about the ramifications of reducing aid to Honduras, he might have realized that it would only serve to further destabilize the country, adding more impetus for people to flee. Meanwhile, the Mexican government appears to have intercepted the main part of the caravan, turning some members around and discussing humanitarian visas for others.

 Last year alone Mexico stopped 82,000 Central Americans from moving north, and from October 2014 to May 2015, Mexico detained more Central Americans than the U.S. Border Patrol caught crossing in from Mexico.

Trump’s string of hyperbolic tweets about the caravan fits the president’s pattern of recklessly disregarding the truth to score political points. Here, his goal seems to be to turn a larger-than-usual, but utterly manageable, protest into an unprecedented border crisis. Witness his comment at the White House on Monday about possibly sending troops to the southern border, as if we were about to be overrun by Mongol invaders.

The number of migrants may seem large — estimates of the size of the caravan have run from 1,200 to 1,500 people — but many of its members say they intend to seek asylum in Mexico. 

Ultimately, Trump’s tirade amounts to little more than a bit of showboating for his nativist loyalists and an attempt to divert the rest of the public’s attention from the latest ration of scandals and missteps, from the ongoing Mueller investigation to the costly tariffs China just imposed on U.S. pork, fruit and other exports in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. 

Immigration is vital to the country’s future, but the system has been dysfunctional for years, leaving some 11 million immigrants living and working in the shadows. It’s a thorny issue freighted with ethnic and class politics, one that will take a knowledgeable and savvy leader trusted by the left and the right to fix. Here’s hoping such a person runs for president in 2020, because such leadership clearly is beyond Trump’s skill set.

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