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3 very different border realities

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

(CNN) — Three completely different border realities were displayed Thursday.

► There’s the Donald Trump reality, where President Joe Biden is to blame and a military force is needed to shut the border, control an invasion of “murderers,” round up the undocumented and expel them from the US.

► There’s the Biden reality, where Trump is to blame for killing a bipartisan compromise that would have given all presidents new powers to control the influx of migrants and streamline a broken asylum process.

► And there’s the lived reality of children and families facing hunger and hypothermia in open-air camps along the border.

That grim picture was presented in court filings related to the camps near the US-Mexico border in California, which seek to force the federal government to better protect the well-being of people who are waiting to make asylum claims. Read CNN’s report, which includes images of a girl in a cast deposited at an open-air camp and a woman trapped in the slats of border fencing.

The 3.3 million case backlog of asylum claims is one of the main problems of the current immigration policy crisis, and the bipartisan bill would have sought to address it by adding workers at the border and beefing up the immigration court system. The fact that people can live in the US for years before their asylum claim is ultimately heard has been cited as a reason that so many continue to make the dangerous journey.

Trump’s promise for a massive deportation effort

Don’t expect to hear anything from the migrant perspective from Trump, who visited the border at Eagle Pass, Texas, on Thursday. He is promising a drastic deportation effort.

“I will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” Trump promised in a video posted Wednesday to his social media platform.

Making use of his trademark hyperbole, Trump referred to migrants as “Joe Biden’s illegals and murderers.”

What would a mass deportation effort look like?

Planning is already underway in Trump’s sphere about how to go about such an effort. If, as seems likely, Congress didn’t green-light such an operation, CNN has reported Trump could attempt to redirect funds from the Pentagon, a tactic he tried during his first term in office to fund a border wall.

Any such roundup and deportation effort, according to the CNN report from last year, “would necessitate building large camps to house migrants waiting for deportation and tapping federal and local law enforcement to assist with large-scale arrests of undocumented immigrants across the country.”

There is a model in US history for such an effort. “Operation Wetback,” which made use of a derogatory term that sounds horrible in hindsight, was a military-style operation during the Dwight Eisenhower administration.

Trump cited that ugly chapter in his 2016 run for president. It is remarkable how in the intervening years his rhetoric on immigration has not changed.

CNN reported on the history of the 1950s deportation effort in 2016. It described how US agents “plucked Mexican laborers from fields and ranches in targeted raids, bused them to detention centers along the border, and ultimately sent many of them deep into the interior of Mexico, some by airlift, others on cargo boats that typically hauled bananas.”

The militarized border town

CNN’s Rosa Flores reported before Trump’s speech from Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. That’s the recreation area along the Rio Grande seized by the state national guard. They have kicked US Border Patrol out of that area and plan to build a military base there. State officials have lined the river in Eagle Pass with concertina wire, shipping containers and buoys to deter people from crossing.

These efforts by the state to take over border security from the federal government are the subject of ongoing court disputes.

Trump’s visit, CNN’s Stephen Collinson, Priscilla Alvarez and MJ Lee wrote ahead of the trip, “will showcase his dark portrayal of a nation under siege from a torrent of what he claims are migrant criminals and invaders.”

“This looks very militarized,” Flores said, a contrast to the background chosen by the White House for Biden, who also visited the border on Thursday, 300 miles downriver in Brownsville.

Meanwhile in Brownsville …

The Washington Post had an interesting comparison between the two areas and guessed at why Brownsville, which is much more used to larger volumes of migrant crossings, has been able to more easily absorb the influx.

Speaking on Air Force One en route to Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Brownsville is a model of how the migrant crisis should be handled: not with a standoff between Texas and the federal government, but with cooperation.

“Brownsville demonstrates the impact of that partnership when everyone’s working together to address a shared challenge,” he said.

Biden has shifted in recent weeks, going on offense on the issue of immigration after Trump successfully pressured Republicans on Capitol Hill to kill the bipartisan border bill.

US voters are on track to get a choice between Biden’s and Trump’s realities in November if, as expected, the two men clinch their respective major party nominations. The migrants fleeing to the US despite the risks must feel like they have run out of options.

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