The first few hundred migrants struggling to reach the U.S. and claim asylum started arriving two weeks ago. If that's news to you, it's because President Donald Trump has largely stopped using the issue as a wedge to inflame his base and drive his voters to the polls.

Taking his cue, conservative news outlets for the most part have dispensed with the constant updates and footage that made the caravan appear to be just a few bodies short of the Normandy invasion.

The caravan has been revealed for what it is: a desperate attempt by desperate people driven to leave everything behind and walk from Honduras across Central America to escape violence, poverty, and death. Their beacon? Los Estados Unidos, where President Trump sent nearly 6,000 active-duty troops to fend off what he called an "invasion."

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The troops themselves have become pawns in this bit of political theater. They spend their days in the Texas desert, stringing concertina wire, living off MREs. And the caravan? The vast majority are still nearly 1,000 miles away. If their endurance holds out, they may reach the U.S. just before Christmas. And those few hundred early arrivals? They crossed at Tijuana into California - 1,500 miles from where most U.S. troops are stationed. By mid-month, some of the "invaders" were waiting patiently in line to file asylum applications. Others were biding their time near the border or taking their chances at an illegal crossing.

The caravan itself is a reflection of how border crossings have changed. The hiring of "coyotes," who furtively helped smuggle individuals, resulted in exploitation and often the abuse of those attempting to cross. Many of those seeking to enter the U.S. have opted for safety in numbers, hoping against hope they can make a humanitarian claim to asylum, though many do not meet the international refugee standard of fear of persecution.

Their plight more than ever points up the need for a nuanced, humane, effective set of reforms that protect the integrity of this nation's borders while addressing the plight of those fleeing situations more fearsome than most Americans can imagine.

To compare these economic refugees, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did this month, to the cross-border raid led by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916 that nearly triggered a war is bizarre.

Trump's continued demonization of migrants did little to move this country closer to the immigration and border reforms it so badly needs. His decision to send troops to the border was made even worse by an early suggestion they should fire on migrants who so much as throw a rock. Those veterans who rose up to remind leaders that firing on unarmed civilians could be considered a war crime can be applauded.

As with so many issues, it would have been possible for leaders in Washington to deal with immigration, border security, and asylum without attempting to poison Americans against those who seek the freedoms and opportunity that have made this nation what it is. Of course, everyone cannot come in. But those who cannot are still deserving of compassion and humane treatment.

A course of action that seeks to work with the governments these migrants are escaping, to deal with push factors that are driving flight, would pay more dividends than the barbed wire and bluster the president offered.

These narratives that cast migrants as invading hordes, filled with, as Trump alleged, criminals and "Middle Easterners" were not only hateful, they were dangerous and not reflective of most Americans.

Congress has much on its plate, but immigration reform should rise quickly toward the top, if only to stop the fear and xenophobia that could, if it continues, reach a more dangerous zenith.


- Star Tribune, Minneapolis