Well, I guess some people in the caravan were looking to make trouble after all.
The situation got out of control in Tijuana on Sunday as hundreds of migrants tried to evade Mexican police and ran toward a border crossing that leads to San Diego.
Customs officials shut down the border for hours and fired tear gas to push the migrants back. Some threw rocks at the American officers, a number of whom were hit, and the border was shut down for hours. Some 42 migrants were arrested on the U.S. side.
All in all, not a pretty picture.
The inevitable political question: Was President Trump right about the caravan?
The media depicted the president as shamelessly hyping the threat from the caravan, which started in Honduras, solely to rouse his base for the midterms.
Two things, of course, are not mutually exclusive. Trump did pound away at the caravan as part of an effort to make illegal immigration a major midterm issue. And most of the media treated the traveling migrants as sympathetic figures who didn’t pose a threat to anyone.
The reality turned out to be more complicated. Not all the migrants were a threat, and many legitimately hoped to seek asylum from persecution or economic hardship. But the hundreds who stormed the San Diego border, in what began as a protest against slow-moving asylum claims, clearly included many violent people trying to injure federal agents.
Trump wasted no time in taking to Twitter yesterday morning: “Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries.”
I don’t know on what basis the president is claiming that “many” have a criminal history, but some clearly committed a crime on Sunday.
It was Trump’s description of the caravan as an “invasion” that prompted CNN’s Jim Acosta to debate him and refuse to give up the microphone, leading the White House to pull his credentials until they were restored by a federal judge.
I doubt the clash will do anything to break the partisan gridlock on this issue, especially with Democrats taking over the House.
The president and his allies are seizing on the violent incident to vindicate their view that illegal immigrants pose a threat to American safety. In his tweet, Trump said: “We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”
But liberals and Latino activists are drawing a different lesson. A Los Angeles Times story said “the images of the U.S. government using tear gas on a group of migrants that included children disturbed others, who said it underscored the cruel approach of the Trump administration.”
On that point, such action is not unprecedented. There was a similar incident in 2013, during the Obama administration, in which about 100 immigrants threw rocks and bottles at Border Patrol agents, who responded with pepper spray, in the same region.
There was a strange diplomatic dance over the weekend when The Washington Post in particular touted a deal between the administration and the incoming government of Mexico to keep asylum-seekers in that country during the application process. But then the Mexican transition officials backed off and said there had been no deal.
There will always be another caravan. What’s clear is that this thorny and emotional issue is not going away, even though the latest election is over.