The Real Trump Foreign Policy: Stoking the G.O.P. Base

Why else would he pursue so many policies in Latin America that do not serve the national interest?

Americans can be forgiven if they struggle to find any coherence in the Trump administration’s foreign policy. It zigs and zags, with senior administration officials saying one thing and President Trump contradicting them without warning the next day. It punishes our allies and coddles our adversaries; it privileges demagogy over democracy. Mr. Trump’s approach appears impulsive, improvisational and inchoate — devoid of clear purpose, values or even ideology.

Yet, upon closer examination, there is indeed a consistent logic staring us in the face. The unifying theme of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is simply to service his domestic politics.

Mr. Trump welcomes and encourages Russia, a hostile adversary, to interfere in our elections so long as the manipulations benefit him. He discards decades of bipartisan policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to curry favor with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and thus right-wing political support. The president follows a basic, if unorthodox, playbook: He and his party over our country.

Nowhere is this pattern more consistently apparent than in the administration’s dealings with Latin America. In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has taken a series of actions that are not tied to coherent strategies and will not deliver the desired results — if those results are to be measured in terms of achieving American foreign policy objectives. Rather, they may succeed only to the extent that they help Mr. Trump gain re-election by dishing up red meat to energize the Republican base.

Take Cuba. Last month, the Trump administration turned the clock back to the Cold War, imposing the harshest forms of sanctions against Cuba allowable under United States law. Mr. Trump reversed the policy of his Republican and Democratic predecessors by permitting Americans to sue foreign companies that use property confiscated without compensation by the Castro regime.

The administration also canceled a deal to allow Cuban baseball players to play in the United States, sharply constrained remittances and promised to end most forms of nonfamily travel, actions that will directly harm Cuba’s people and nascent private sector. In triumphantly announcing this policy shift before veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the national security adviser, John Bolton, repeatedly stressed the contrast with President Obama’s approach and pledged relentless pursuit of regime change.

Anyone familiar with the 60-plus years of failed United States policy toward Cuba before Mr. Obama’s opening in 2014 knows that the embargo only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on its long-suffering people. Instead of causing the collapse of the Cuban government or the abandonment of its ally Venezuela, Mr. Trump’s approach will again bolster hard-liners in Havana, entrench policies we oppose, drive Cuba closer to Russia and China, further isolate and impoverish the Cuban people and punish our European and Canadian allies, whose companies will now be sued.

Yet, this policy reversal surely pleases the old guard among Cuban émigrés, as it did the Bay of Pigs celebrants who cheered Bolton. Given the changing attitudes among younger Cuban-Americans who largely supported Mr. Obama’s engagement, it remains to be seen how much political sway the hard-liners still have in the crucial battleground state of Florida. Still, Mr. Trump is betting on firing up that faction.

Not content to bank only on the Cuban community in Florida, Mr. Trump is also courting the state’s many Venezuelan immigrants, who justifiably detest the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. To hasten Mr. Maduro’s exit, the Trump administration has rightly joined with regional and international partners to impose sanctions against Mr. Maduro, his government and cronies, and to recognize the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.

How the G.O.P. Built Donald Trump’s Cages

Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.

.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.

.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.

.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.

.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.

.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.

.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right

.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform

.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.

.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.

It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.

..  the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.

.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.

.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president

.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”

.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.

.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.

.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.

.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.

.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”

.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.

Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.

He prefers casting blame and making threats. 

.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.

.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.

.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.

.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.

.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.

.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.

.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.

.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.

.. There is also his

  • politicization of law enforcement, his
  • attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
  • attacks on the press, his
  • family’s suspect business dealings and his
  • habitual lying

.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.

.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.

.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.

We’re Helping Deport Kids to Die

If other countries were forcibly returning people to their deaths, we would protest. But because we Americans worry about refugees swarming across our borders, we help pay for Mexico to intercept them along its southern border and send them — even children like Elena — back home, where they may well be raped or killed.

.. Obama spoke with the Mexican president to discuss how to address the flow, and Mexico obligingly imposed a crackdown to stop these refugees long before they could reach the United States. Mexico deports a great majority of them to their home countries, and the United States is thus complicit when they are terrorized, raped and murdered.

.. Immigration is among the knottiest of challenges, and there is a real risk that welcoming some children creates an incentive that results in other children endangering their lives by undertaking a perilous journey north.

.. historically, Central Americans had a refuge in southern Mexico, and it is unnecessary and cruel now for the U.S. to take the initiative and work so diligently to cut off that safe haven.

.. It’s not that Honduras or El Salvador are tyrannical regimes; rather, the problem is that criminal gangs are out of control. The homicide rate in El Salvador last year, more than 100 killings per 100,000 people, represents a mortality rate of roughly the same magnitude as during the country’s brutal civil war in the 1980s

.. These are not primarily economic migrants. These are refugees, deserving protection. Instead, the United States and Mexico are colluding to send people like them back to the gangs that want to kill them.

.. gang members barged into his home, held his family at gunpoint and said they would kill his two small children unless he paid protection money. So now Emilio is hiding in Mexico with his wife and two children, and getting death threats.

.. Mexico doesn’t seriously screen most people for refugee status before sending them back. In the U.S. in 2014, only 3 percent of minors detained were deported; in Mexico it was 77 percent

.. Indeed, by some accounts, the gangs keep an eye on the buses arriving in San Salvador and unloading deportees, who become sitting ducks.

.. Secretary of State John Kerry rightfully criticized Kenya’s plans to close its Daadab refugee camp and return refugees to Somalia, but the U.S. does something parallel when it works with Mexico to deport refugees to Honduras and El Salvador.

What’s Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families Are Separated?

the ones that I’ve been working with are the ones that are actually being prosecuted for criminal entry, which is a pretty new thing for our country—to take first-time asylum seekers who are here seeking safe refuge, to turn around and charge them with a criminal offense. Those parents are finding themselves in adult detention centers and in a process known as expedited removal, where many are being deported. And their children, on the other hand, are put in a completely different legal structure. They are categorized as unaccompanied children and thus are being put in place in a federal agency not with the Department of Homeland Security but with Health and Human Services. And Health and Human Services has this complicated structure in place where they’re not viewed as a long-term foster care system—that’s for very limited numbers—but their general mandate is to safeguard these children in temporary shelters and then find family members with whom they can be placed. So they start with parents, and then they go to grandparents, and then they go to other immediate family members, and then they go to acquaintances, people who’ve known the children, and they’re in that system, but they can’t be released to their parents because their parents are behind bars.

.. And we may see more parents that get out of jail because they pass a “credible fear” interview, which is the screening done by the asylum office to see who should be deported quickly, within days or weeks of arrival, and who should stay here and have an opportunity to present their asylum case before an immigration judge of the Department of Justice.

.. So we have a lot of individuals who are in that credible fear process right now, but in Houston, once you have a credible fear interview (which will sometimes take two to three weeks to even set up), those results aren’t coming out for four to six weeks. Meanwhile, these parents are just kind of languishing in these detention centers because of the zero-tolerance policy. There’s no individual adjudication of whether the parents should be put on some form of alternative detention program so that they can be in a position to be reunited with their kid.

.. TM: So, just so I make sure I understand: the parents come in and say, “We’re persecuted” or give some reason for asylum. They come in. And then their child or children are taken away and they’re in lockup for at least six weeks away from the kids and often don’t know where the kids are. Is that what’s happening under zero tolerance?

.. AC: So the idea of zero tolerance under the stated policy is that we don’t care why you’re afraid. We don’t care if it’s religion, political, gangs, anything. For all asylum seekers, you are going to be put in jail, in a detention center, and you’re going to have your children taken away from you. That’s the policy. They’re not 100 percent able to implement that because of a lot of reasons, including just having enough judges on the border. And bed space. There’s a big logistical problem because this is a new policy. So the way they get to that policy of taking the kids away and keeping the adults in detention centers and the kids in a different federal facility is based on the legal rationale that we’re going to convict you, and since we’re going to convict you, you’re going to be in the custody of the U.S. Marshals, and when that happens, we’re taking your kid away. So they’re not able to convict everybody of illegal entry right now just because there aren’t enough judges on the border right now to hear the number of cases that come over, and then they say if you have religious persecution or political persecution or persecution on something that our asylum definition recognizes, you can fight that case behind bars at an immigration detention center. And those cases take two, three, four, five, six months. And what happens to your child isn’t really our concern. That is, you have made the choice to bring your child over illegally. And this is what’s going to happen.

TM: Even if they crossed at a legal entry point?

AC: Very few people come to the bridge. Border Patrol is saying the bridge is closed. When I was last out in McAllen, people were stacked on the bridge, sleeping there for three, four, ten nights. They’ve now cleared those individuals from sleeping on the bridge, but there are hundreds of accounts of asylum seekers, when they go to the bridge, who are told, “I’m sorry, we’re full today. We can’t process your case.” So the families go illegally on a raft—I don’t want to say illegally; they cross without a visa on a raft. Many of them then look for Border Patrol to turn themselves in, because they know they’re going to ask for asylum. And under this government theory—you know, in the past, we’ve had international treaties, right? Statutes which codified the right of asylum seekers to ask for asylum. Right? Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly says that it is improper for any state to use criminal laws that could deter asylum seekers as long as that asylum seeker is asking for asylum within a reasonable amount of time. But our administration is kind of ignoring this longstanding international and national jurisprudence of basic beliefs to make this distinction that, if you come to a bridge, we’re not going to prosecute you, but if you come over the river and then find immigration or are caught by immigration, we’re prosecuting you.

TM: So if you cross any other way besides the bridge, we’re prosecuting you. But . . . you can’t cross the bridge.

.. When I was in McAllen, the individuals that day who visited people on the bridge had been there four days. We’re talking infants; there were people breastfeeding on the bridge.

.. And so we saw about six hundred children who were taken away from October to May, then we saw an explosion of the numbers in May. It ramped up. The Office of Refugee Resettlement taking in all these kids says that they are our children, that they are unaccompanied. It’s a fabrication. They’re not unaccompanied children. They are children that came with their parents, and the idea that we’re creating this crisis—it’s a manufactured crisis where we’re going to let children suffer to somehow allow this draconian approach with families seeking shelter and safe refuge.

TM: So what is the process for separation?

.. AC: There is no one process. Judging from the mothers and fathers I’ve spoken to and those my staff has spoken to, there are several different processes. Sometimes they will tell the parent, “We’re taking your child away.” And when the parent asks, “When will we get them back?” they say, “We can’t tell you that.” Sometimes the officers will say, “because you’re going to be prosecuted” or “because you’re not welcome in this country” or “because we’re separating them,” without giving them a clear justification. In other cases, we see no communication that the parent knows that their child is to be taken away. Instead, the officers say, “I’m going to take your child to get bathed.” That’s one we see again and again. “Your child needs to come with me for a bath.” The child goes off, and in a half an hour, twenty minutes, the parent inquires, “Where is my five-year-old?” “Where’s my seven-year-old?” “This is a long bath.” And they say, “You won’t be seeing your child again.” Sometimes mothers—I was talking to one mother, and she said, “Don’t take my child away,” and the child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, “Can I at least have five minutes to console her?” They said no. In another case, the father said, “Can I comfort my child? Can I hold him for a few minutes?” The officer said, “You must let them go, and if you don’t let them go, I will write you up for an altercation, which will mean that you are the one that had the additional charges charged against you.” So, threats.

.. AC: In the shelters, they can’t even find the parents because the kids are just crying inconsolably. They often don’t know the full legal name of their parents or their date of birth. They’re not in a position to share a trauma story like what caused the migration. These kids and parents had no idea. None of the parents I talked to were expecting to be separated as they faced the process of asking for asylum.

.. The issue is that the Department of Homeland Security is not the one caring for the children. Jurisdiction of that child has moved over to Health and Human Services, and the Health and Human Services staff has to figure out, where is this parent? And that’s not easy. Sometimes the parents are deported. Kids are in New York and Miami, and we’ve got parents being sent to Tacoma, Washington, and California. Talk about a mess.

.. TM: What agency is in charge of physically separating the children and the adults?

AC: The Department of Homeland Security.

.. We saw the separation take place while they were in the care and custody of Customs and Border Protection. That’s where it was happening, at a center called the Ursula, which the immigrants called La Perrera, because it looked like a dog pound, a dog cage. It’s a chain-link fence area, long running areas that remind Central Americans of the way people treat dogs.

..  So now you’re creating two populations. One is your traditional unaccompanied kids who are just coming because their life is at risk right now in El Salvador and Honduras and parts of Guatemala, and they come with incredible trauma, complex stories, and need a lot of resources, and so they navigate this immigration system. And now we have this new population, which is totally different: the young kids who don’t hold their stories and aren’t here to self-navigate the system and are crying out for their parents.

.. So how long do the kids stay in the facility?

AC: It used to be, on average, thirty days. But that’s going up now.

.. DHS goes to those foster homes and arrests people and puts people in jail and deports them.