At Mass on Sunday, Catholics around the world heard the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan: It is the story Jesus told of a Samaritan encountering on the road a Jewish man—a foreigner to him—who had been beaten and left for dead. While others walked by and let the man suffer, the Samaritan stopped, dressed his wounds and took him to safety despite their deep cultural differences.
At about the time that gospel was being proclaimed, President Trump tweeted out his already-famous, incendiary declaration that young Democratic congresswomen criticizing America should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
The contrast in those Sunday messages was striking. So too was the evolution in Republican rhetoric from the days of Ronald Reagan, an earlier GOP president who, in his farewell address, talked of America as a “shining city” that was “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace” and whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Mr. Trump’s tweet came at a time when the country already was pained by television images of illegal immigrants packed into chain-link pens at the border, and while the immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was beginning a wave of raids to round up undocumented immigrants.
There is a root cause for all this: The country is being riven by a seething immigration debate, left unresolved by successive administrations and Congresses. Put bluntly, the immigration system is broken and needs fixing, yet the emotions now being stirred probably are making it less likely, not more likely, that it will be fixed any time soon.
In his message, Mr. Trump was referring to a group of young congresswomen known as “the squad”—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are minorities and, despite the implication of the president’s tweet, three of the four were born in the U.S.
Ironically, the four outspoken progressives had been a far bigger problem for fellow Democrats, and specifically for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, than for Mr. Trump. They have incensed fellow Democrats by charging them with racist behavior, encouraged progressives to challenge incumbent Democratic lawmakers, and undercut the party’s attempts to modulate its message to win back moderate and working-class voters who drifted toward Mr. Trump in 2016.
In fact, comments by Trump allies suggest they would like to make those controversial congresswomen the new face of the Democratic party in the eyes of middle-of-the-road Americans.
The president’s attack on the congresswomen had significant racial overtones, because all four are women of color. But the policy debate running beneath the charged rhetoric is over immigration.
The nuts and bolts of the immigration problem now riveting the country are relatively simple. Rampant social violence and economic dislocation are compelling working men and women in Central America to seek a way out. Current immigration law and court rulings have created a muddle over when and how such people might seek asylum in the U.S., and what should be done with them when they do so.
The asylum option is drawing northward thousands of immigrants. A sensible U.S. policy solution would be to
- clarify the law’s provisions about asylum,
- establish a more sensible system for handling asylum seekers and their families, and
- provide more help to Central American nations to reduce the problems that compel people to leave in the first place.
As U.S. officials and lawmakers have concluded at various times in the past, the price of helping Central American nations solve their problems there is probably lower in the long run than is paying the financial and social prices of having the problems land here.
Nearly lost in the process is a recognition of the considerable contribution immigrants make to American society. The New American Economy is an organization, funded by business leaders, that has set out to document the contributions immigrants make to U.S. economic growth. On its website, it estimates the impact of immigrants by state, and even by city.
Example: The Kansas City metropolitan area has 140,442 immigrant residents, who pay $1 billion in taxes, have $3.1 billion in spending power, and include 9,625 immigrant entrepreneurs.
Mr. Trump’s supporters often point out that his administration supports legal immigration, and is fighting illegal immigration, which is true. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has overseen the drafting of an immigration proposal that would boost border security while also setting up a merit-based immigration system that would keep the number of legal immigrants at current levels while shifting the mix more to those with needed job and technical skills.
But the congresswomen Mr. Trump targeted also are here legally, a sign of how fast rhetoric can slide downhill.
House Democratic leaders, their patience clearly fraying, signaled this weekend to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outspoken top aide that his seeming efforts to lead an insurrection against more moderate Democrats would no longer be tolerated — a message also aimed at the freshman congresswoman who employs him.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand from the Bronx, has given her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, remarkable latitude to pursue the divisive politics that made his name when he led Justice Democrats, a group founded to challenge entrenched Democrats through primary campaigns.
With that license, Mr. Chakrabarti has become an unelected symbol of the party’s growing disunity, as Democrats try to coalesce as a party before what promises to be a punishing fight next year for the White House. The battle between the Democrats who secured the House majority last year by flipping Republican districts and the smaller, but politically potent, left-wing from secure Democratic districts has found its cause célèbre.
Mr. Chakrabarti ignited a firestorm two weeks ago after a bruising intraparty fight over an emergency border aid package that progressives said lacked sufficient restrictions on the Trump administration. Calling out moderate Democrats who sank a more liberal aid package, he compared them to “new Southern Democrats.”
They “certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s,” he said on Twitter. He later deleted the tweet.
On Friday night, Democratic leaders showed that they had enough. Using the House Democratic Caucus’s official Twitter account, they delivered a rhetorical slap that questioned not only Mr. Chakrabarti’s future but also whether Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wanted to be a lawmaker on the inside or an outsider campaigning to purge the party of centrists and force it to the left.
The rebuke shared a tweet by Mr. Chakrabarti that explained that he believed Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas, one of the two first Native American women to serve in Congress, was enabling a “racist system” in voting for a weaker border aid package.
“I don’t think people have to be personally racist to enable a racist system,” the aide had written, to which Democratic leaders demanded,“Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?”
The slap ended with, “Keep her name out of your mouth.”17.8K people are talking about this
That last phrase was filled with its own meaning. It echoed a blow delivered on Tuesday to the White House adviser Kellyanne Conway by Representative Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, a member of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s “squad,” who wrote, “Keep my name out of your lying mouth.”
To further make the point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, retweeted the slap.
Mr. Chakrabarti, a former Silicon Valley start-up founder turned left-wing political organizer, has defiantly retained his outsider streak even after becoming a chief of staff at one of the nation’s most establishment institutions, the House. That has riled ranks of Democratic lawmakers and aides. While convention on Capitol Hill holds that aides are to be seen and not heard, he has publicly and repeatedly criticized Ms. Pelosi. Perhaps most galling to lawmakers, he has also encouraged his Twitter followers to support liberal candidates trying to oust sitting Democrats, an uneasy reminder of his work with Justice Democrats.
He has cultivated a remarkably high profile for a congressional aide. He “isn’t just running her office,” a Washington Post Magazine profile of him said, “he’s guiding a movement.” A headline from Elle magazine crowed, “You Need to Know Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Chief of Snacks Saikat Chakrabarti.”
Mr. Chakrabarti has also remained defiant. He dismissed the rebuke from Democratic leadership Friday night, arguing that “Everything I tweeted 2 weeks ago was to call out the terrible border funding bill that 90+ Dems opposed.”
“Our Democracy is literally falling apart,” Mr. Chakrabarti tweeted. “I’m not interested in substance-less Twitter spats.”
Justice Democrats, the group he founded, and over a dozen other progressive groups backed him on Saturday, releasing a statement expressing concern that “senior Democratic Party leaders and their aides have been escalating attacks on new leaders in the party” and urging them to focus on “the real crisis at hand” at the border.
The drama may be more reminiscent of a high school student council than the House of Representatives, but it has created a dilemma for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. The progressive darling has remained silent on her aide’s remarks; her spokesman declined to comment on Saturday. Asked on Thursday to comment on her aide’s earlier tweets, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez replied that she had “not been paying attention to this.”
That is likely to further anger House members, many of whom are people of color representing moderate to conservative districts. It is considered a breach of protocol for unelected congressional aides to criticize lawmakers even in closed-door meetings — much less publicly blast out their grievances — and those who step out of line typically face consequences.
As the chairman of a powerful conservative caucus, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, fired a top aide in 2013 after allegations that the aide had allied with conservative advocacy groups to blow up a Republican leadership budget deal.
“We all rely on staff, but we have to have the full trust of our staff,” Mr. Scalise said at the time.
But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez prides herself on eschewing convention — an instinct that guided her ascent to become the youngest-ever elected representative — and so far has extended that approach to her staff. Shortly after arriving to Capitol Hill, her legislative assistant, Dan Riffle, gave an interview in which he described fellow Democratic congressional aides as Ivy League “careerists” who “don’t think big and aren’t here to change the world.”
Mr. Chakrabarti also has unloaded his grievances, sparing no one.
“Pelosi claims we can’t focus on impeachment because it’s a distraction from kitchen table issues. But I’d challenge you to find voters that can name a single thing House Democrats have done for their kitchen table this year,” Mr. Chakrabarti wrote after the divisive vote on border aid. “What is this legislative mastermind doing?”
“I like to show my cards and see people’s reactions,” Mr. Chakrabarti told The Washington Post Magazine, echoing President Trump. But other controversies have dogged him — in part because of the outsize attention Ms. Ocasio-Cortez receives from right-wing news outlets — for a lack of forthrightness.
After graduating from Harvard, Mr. Chakrabarti worked for a year as a technology associate at the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, and then moved to Silicon Valley to help found the technology company Stripe. He is presumed to be rich, but has not filed a financial disclosure form, leadership aides say.
Because Ms. Ocasio-Cortez capped her senior aides’ salaries to ensure she could offer an entry-level wage of $52,000, her employees are below the income threshold that mandates public financial disclosure. Instead, a House ethics panel required her to compel at least one of her aides who can “act in the member’s name or with the member’s authority” to file a disclosure form.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez chose Mr. Riffle, the legislative assistant, to submit the disclosure, rather than Mr. Chakrabarti.
In March, a conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission saying that Mr. Chakrabarti improperly disclosed the spending of two political action committees he helped establish that paid more than $1 million in 2016 and 2017 to a company he ran.
The company, Brand New Congress L.L.C., was an arm of a group he helped found by the same name that recruited community organizers as candidates who would all adopt the same transformative progressive platform; in turn, the group would contract their staff out to help run the candidates’ campaigns. To do this, Brand New Congress argued, the group had to be set up as a limited liability company — which is not required to disclose information about its owners or spending.
A lawyer for the company has said that Mr. Chakrabarti never received any salary or profit from the company, the political action committees or the campaign, and that the move was legal.
Vice President Mike Pence toured two Border Patrol facilities on Friday, later saying they were “providing care that every American would be proud of.”
Vice President Mike Pence played down reports of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at two migrant detention centers in Texas that he visited on Friday, but he acknowledged the gravity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding along the United States’ southwestern border.
The tour gave journalists covering the vice president a rare glimpse inside a Border Patrol station near McAllen, Tex., where they observed nearly 400 men crammed inside a cage with no space to lie down and no mats or pillows, according to pool reports.
Before members of the news media were ushered out of the facility, some of the detainees shouted that they had been there for more than 40 days, were hungry and could not brush their teeth. One pool reporter described the stench as “horrendous” — some of the agents wore face masks — and said it was sweltering inside the detention center, which is less than 10 miles from the Rio Grande, the river that divides the United States and Mexico.
“I was not surprised by what I saw,” Mr. Pence said later at a news conference. “I knew we would see a system that was overwhelmed. This is tough stuff.”
Mr. Pence was effusive in his praise of Border Patrol agents, whom he referred to as “compassionate.” But instead of tamping down criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the tide of refugees, many from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the photos and videos that emerged from the tightly choreographed tour further inflamed critics.
The visit came 10 days after the release of a scathing report by the independent watchdog arm of the Department of Homeland Security on the poor conditions at migrant holding centers near the border. More than a dozen adult detainees have died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the beginning of last year, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The same day Mr. Pence visited the border, thousands of demonstrators across the United States held protests and candlelight vigils to express their opposition to the White House’s immigration policy. In Aurora, Colo., protesters raised a Mexican flag in front of a local detention center.
“It’s apparent that @realDonaldTrump & @VP have very different definitions of humane and compassionate than the rest of us,” Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said on Twitter. “Let’s be clear: crowding hundreds of people in cages in sweltering heat without showers or basic necessities is neither humane nor compassionate.”
At the news conference, Mr. Pence tried to deflect the criticism to Democrats in Congress, calling on them to provide additional funding for more beds for the undocumented immigrants detained by ICE. He also sought to highlight his role in a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill that tries to address the border crisis; it was approved by Congress last month and signed by President Trump on July 1.
Michael Banks, the patrol agent in charge of the McAllen detention center, said in a news media briefing that the migrants had been provided three meals a day by local restaurants, along with juice and crackers.
Because of space limitations, he said, male detainees cannot have cots, but they had been given mylar blankets that look like aluminum foil. Crinkling sounds from the blankets could be heard by journalists, who were allowed inside the facility for about 90 seconds.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Pence visited a cavernous detention center in Donna, Tex., that can accommodate up to 1,000 people. It was built in May and currently houses about 800 migrants, according to pool reports.
The vice president was accompanied by the second lady, Karen Pence, and three Republican senators: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Mr. Lee helped interpret for Mr. Pence, who had asked several migrant children questions in English, according to a pool reporter.
When Mr. Pence asked the children if they had food and were being taken care of, they nodded and a few said “sí,” according to the pool report. But when he inquired if they had a place to “get cleaned up,” the children shook their heads.
Two children told Mr. Pence that they had walked for two to three months to reach the United States. He then said “God bless you” in English and “gracias,” according to the pool report.
Several Democratic presidential candidates criticized Mr. Pence’s appearance at the detention centers. Among them was Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and a secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama.
“Make no mistake, @VP, this is the result of your administration slashing aid to Central America and undermining the asylum process,” Mr. Castro said on Twitter on Saturday. “You and Donald Trump share the blame.”
On Friday, Mr. Pence excoriated one of Mr. Trump’s favorite targets, CNN, calling its coverage of his visit to the detention centers “dishonest.”
“And while we hear some Democrats in Washington, D.C., referring to U.S. Customs and Border facilities as ‘concentration camps,’ what we saw today was a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks in McAllen.
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.