Can right and left break out of their disastrous cycle?
Nature’s temporary solution to the crisis on the United States’southwest border is upon us, in the form of high summer temperatures that should reduce the migration rate and relieve some of the pressure on our overcrowded camps and courts. So it’s a good time to step back and assess the disastrous cycle in which our immigration policy has been caught.
The cycle started with a gap between the elite consensus on immigration — unabashedly in favor — and the public’s more conflicted attitudes, which differ depending on the day’s headlines and the wording of the polling questions. Across the first 15 years of the 21st century, too many Beltway attempts to simply impose the elite consensus set the stage for backlash, populism, Trump.
Unfortunately that backlash did not just give us a more restrictionist president. It gave us a restrictionist president who mixes ineffectiveness in legislating, incompetence in administration, and an impulse toward “toughness” as the response to every challenge — one that easily becomes a license for cruelty when a crisis hits. As it has, in the form of the wave of family migration — to which the Trumpian response has been, first,
- the formal inhumanity of the child separation policy, and since then, the
- informal inhumanity of an overwhelmed detainment system.
This inhumanity, in turn, has driven many liberals — led by the Democratic Party’s would-be nominees for president — to repudiate not only the specific evils of Trump’s approach, but the entire architecture of immigration enforcement as implemented by, well, the last Democratic president. The camps for asylum seekers must not just be made more humane; they must be closed. Deportations of non-criminal aliens must not only be limited; they must be ended. As migration rates increase exponentially, the government must respond by … decriminalizing illegal entry and extending public benefits to undocumented immigrants.
These policies are far more reckless than the old path-to-citizenship, more-guest-workers elite consensus, because they learn exactly the wrong lessons from the last five years of turbulence. We now have multiple case studies, European and American, of how in a globalized and internet-connected world migration can suddenly cascade, how easily a perceived open door can lead to a dramatic rush to enter — and then how quickly the most generous societies can find themselves retreating to enforcement and lurching toward populism.
For this cycle to break, for immigration policy to stabilize instead of whipsawing between folly and cruelty, you would need fraternal correction to happen within both the right-wing and left-wing coalitions.
On the American right, that correction ought to come from religious conservatives and their representatives, who have generally been far too blasé about the conditions in the migrant camps and the Trump administration’s moral responsibility to migrants.
Yes, these conditions reflect funding shortfalls in which Democrats as well as Trump are complicit; yes, some of the problems were also problems under Obama, and liberal partisans are only just now noticing; yes, reckless adult migrants are often responsible for putting children in peril in the first place.
But none of this absolves the United States of a basic responsibility to keep vulnerable people, children above all, in the most humane conditions possible when their detention is required. The harsh reality of border enforcement tends to breed callousness and prejudice, of the sort that pervades a recently-exposed Border Patrol Facebook group, unless someone in authority is pushing back hard against that tendency. And it’s plain that Trump’s team doesn’t regard that kind of pushback as a moral obligation, that they are either invested in the idea that cruelty might be a useful deterrent or indifferent to the conditions that visitors to the camps keep uncovering.
This is where the president’s religious supporters should be intervening, should be applying moral pressure, should be working to prove that the immigration restrictions they support can be implemented in accord with basic Christian principles. At the moment their efforts are meager, and that proof does not exist.
Then on the Democratic side, the obligation to halt the march of folly falls upon the party’s moderates, its House and Senate leaders — who behaved responsibly last week in passing the border funding bill over Ocasio-Cortezan objections — and finally on the would-be moderate trying to win the party’s nomination, Joe Biden.
Of all the questions that his leftward critics want to relitigate on the debate stage, this might be the most immediately important: Were Barack Obama’s deportation policies (which at their peak removed more people than Trump’s) immoral and un-American, a compromise with fascism that liberalism must now repudiate and permanently leave behind?
Biden has an obvious incentive to answer no, to defend as pro-immigration realism the last administration’s efforts to legalize longtime residents while also resisting migration waves.
But it’s how the party’s voters answer, and what the next Democratic president does, that will determine how fast the cycle of polarization continues turning, how wide our immigration gyre becomes.
It took all of one minute and nine seconds for President Trump to go after his predecessor on Friday — just one minute and nine seconds to re-engage in a debate that has consumed much of his own time in office over who was the better president.
It was former President Barack Obama who started the policy of separating children from their parents at the border, Mr. Trump claimed falsely, and it was Mr. Obama who had such a terrible relationship with North Korea that he was about to go to war. Mr. Obama had it easy on the economy, Mr. Trump added, but let America’s allies walk all over him.
The litany of criticisms, often distorted, are familiar, but Mr. Trump has turned increasingly to Mr. Obama in recent days as a political foil.
In part, that reflects Mr. Trump’s longstanding fixation with the former president. But it may also stem from the fact that Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., remains the Democratic front-runner in the 2020 election.
“If you look at what we’ve done, and if you look at what we’ve straightened out, the — I call it the ‘Obama-Biden mess,’” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving Washington for a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “We’re straightening it out.”
The president’s focus on Mr. Obama after about two and a half years in office was even more intense during a trip to Japan and South Korea last weekend, when Mr. Trump repeatedly raised the subject of his predecessor without being asked, assailing him on a variety of domestic and foreign policy fronts.
“When in a corner, Trump falls back on the only organizing principle he has, which is attacking Obama — and usually lying about it,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama. “I wouldn’t read anything more into it than that.”
Since 2011, when he explored running for president against Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump has had a singular obsession with the 44th president.
He repeatedly questioned Mr. Obama’s citizenship as part of the false “birther” conspiracy. As president, Mr. Obama struck back at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011, when he roasted the reality television star as a lightweight while Mr. Trump sat grim-faced.
Since then, Mr. Trump has been determined to minimize or unravel Mr. Obama’s accomplishments, and lately has even suggested that his predecessor was behind a deep-state conspiracy with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to thwart his 2016 candidacy.
While other presidents have blamed their predecessors for various national ills — including Mr. Obama, who in his first term regularly pointed to former President George W. Bush — Mr. Trump takes it further than most.
It is less common for presidents to take on predecessors who are more popular than they are; Mr. Obama was viewed favorably by 63 percent of those surveyed by Gallup last year, while Mr. Trump’s job approval rating is 41 percent.
But Mr. Trump recognizes that his political base wanted, and still wants, someone who would be seen as fighting against Mr. Obama. Especially as Mr. Biden stumps the country on his record in the Obama administration, Mr. Trump sees a political advantage in taking down his predecessor and trying to lift himself as an outsider taking on a system he has led for over two years.
“Tell Biden that NATO has taken total advantage of him and President Obama,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “Biden didn’t know what the hell he was doing and neither did President Obama. NATO was taking advantage of — now they’re paying.”
“President Obama and Vice President Biden,” he added, “they didn’t have a clue. They got taken advantage of by China, by NATO, by every country they did business with.”
By Mr. Trump’s indictment, Mr. Obama was too soft on China’s trade abuses and too easy on NATO allies who were not spending enough on their own defense, two issues that the current president has pressed much more vigorously. Mr. Trump in recent days has also blamed Mr. Obama for a dispute with Turkey, a NATO ally, over its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. A former Obama aide denied that he refused to sell a Patriot system to Turkey but did object to a technology transfer Ankara demanded as part of a deal.
In leveling his criticisms at Mr. Obama, however, Mr. Trump routinely stretches the facts. As he has repeatedly, Mr. Trump insisted on Friday that had Mr. Obama remained in office, he would have gone to war with North Korea, a claim dismissed as ludicrous by the former president’s advisers.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has added a new claim — that Mr. Obama tried to meet with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, only to be rebuffed, an assertion for which he offered no evidence.
“He called Kim Jong-un on numerous occasions to meet. President Obama wanted to meet with Kim Jong-un. And Kim Jong-un said no,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “Numerous occasions he called. And right now we have a very nice relationship.”
After Mr. Trump floated this while in Asia last weekend, Mr. Obama’s final national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, used an expletive to deny it. “At the risk of stating the obvious, this is horse-sh*t,” she wrote on Twitter, asterisk and all.
Mr. Rhodes, her deputy, repeated the denial on Friday. “There is zero truth to the claim about wanting to meet Kim,” he said. “It’s completely made up and totally incoherent with his previous claim that Obama wanted to go to war with North Korea.”
Other former Obama-era officials have publicly disputed the notion as well, including James R. Clapper Jr., who was director of national intelligence; Wendy R. Sherman, who was under secretary of state; Daniel R. Russel, who was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; and Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff at the C.I.A. and later the Pentagon.
Mr. Trump has also sought to rewrite the history of his own family separation policy at the border, telling audiences that it was Mr. Obama who started it and the current president who stopped it.
“President Obama built those cells. They were in 2014,” Mr. Trump said last weekend at a news conference in Osaka, Japan. He added, “I just say this: They had a separation policy. Right? I ended it.”
He was correct that the Obama administration built some of the detention facilities that have been at the center of the latest furor over the treatment of migrants detained at the border, but they were never meant for the long-term detention of children.
Moreover, while the Obama administration did break up families, it was relatively rare and typically in cases of doubt about the relationship between a child and an accompanying adult.
Mr. Trump’s administration announced a “zero tolerance policy” in April 2018 that resulted in nearly 3,000 children being forcibly separated from parents. After an outcry, Mr. Trump signed an executive order two months later directing officials to end the practice of family separation.
It’s generally agreed the measure of a president has to be based on the record. Then why does trump keep saying “I inherited a mess”? “A mess”? Sure … it’s Obama’s fault is it that he handed Trump a lousy economy that had created 16.5 million jobs? If you have near full employment, rising stock markets, strongest dollar in some time, rising consumer confidence, lowest uninsured percentage . . . What’s the mess he inherited?
Dow Jones going from 7,949 to 17,735 (+123%) S
& P 500 going from 683 to 2040
Unemployment down from 7.8% to 4.9%
GDP Growth up from -5.4% to 2.2%
Deficit GDP% down from 9.8% to 2.8%
Consumer Confidence up from 37.7 to 97.6
Uninsured Adults down from 18% to 11.8%
American cars sold up from 10.4m to 17.5m
This is what Trump inherited. He has created his own mess because he can’t grasp the magnitude and complexity of the job.
It may take federal officials two years to identify what could be thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their families at the southern United States border, the government said in court documents filed on Friday.
A federal judge had asked for a plan to identify these children and their families after a report from government inspectors in January revealed that the Trump administration most likely separated thousands more children from their parents than was previously believed.
.. To identify these families, the government said it would apply a statistical analysis to about 47,000 children who were referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and subsequently discharged, according to the court filing. From there, the government said it would manually review the case records of the children who appeared to have the highest probability of being part of the separated families.
Officials estimated that the process would take at least one year and potentially two. In explaining the reason for such an arduous process, the government said United States Customs and Border Protection did not collect specific data on migrant family separations before April 2018.
Lawyers representing the Office of Refugee Resettlement did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
In a court filing for the government, Jonathan White, a commander with the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, wrote that identifying this group of children presented new challenges because they were already discharged from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, meaning the government “lacks access” to them.
The statistical analysis was required because manually reviewing the cases of nearly 50,000 children would “overwhelm” the office’s resources, he wrote.