This is Who We Are
My first blog post was on Facebook in January 2017. It was before Trump’s inauguration and like most progressives, I was doing my best to cope with the reality of a united Republican government, headed by a man with few, if any morals. I wrote that post in my head while on the elliptical machine at the gym and when I got home that night, put my typing skills to use (70+ wpm, Mom would be proud) to discuss immigration. My issue at that time was the border wall but more generally, Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants. I used one of my own family lines as an example of how incredibly bigoted and short-sighted limiting immigration truly was and how if passed, would lead to a smaller economy and fewer opportunities for Americans. I’m quite sure that post, which has since been archived to this website, was the only one my parents read but I’d like to believe that it shed a slightly different light on a fairly complex problem.
Since that time, I’ve spent time learning a great deal about the history of immigration policy and our current laws. There have been attempts in the last 15 years to try to reform the system, what we refer to as “comprehensive immigration reform,” and something America desperately needs. I have books and notes that I’ve made in preparation for several blog posts, not because I’ve become an expert, but because we need to understand the complex issues behind this system. The system and more importantly, the human beings within it, are being used as political fodder, in a scapegoating exercise to rile up hate, anger, and fear. My personal feeling has always been that regardless of the issue, if you are going to fear it, then you should at least understand it. The problem is – I have not been able to finish anything given the nonstop news, lies, and miscalculations emanating from the Trump Administration.
And so again we find ourselves under siege in a Trump induced crisis, this time with screaming children and despondent parents while our lawmakers stand by helplessly (not all of them, just the ones with elephants tattooed on their foreheads), an Attorney General who uses scripture to defend his policy, and a President who continues to lie about root cause, despite it being flagrantly untrue. Today, my Dad asked me to explain what was happening at the border. What follows is a much more detailed explanation than what I gave him. But what I did not say to my father, I will say here: what is happening at the border and the images that we see on our TV screens is happening because there are American voters who want it to happen. This policy, its immediate and long-term impacts are the result of anyone who voted for this administration and those who continue to support it. While we will ALL pay for its consequences, let’s not shy away from calling out the cause: there are a lot of people in this country who agree with this policy. And until more voters consistently show up at the polls to vote for candidates championing real reform, this nationalistic and bigoted policy will continue.
The migrant crisis is not new. The Bush and Obama Administrations both saw numbers ebb and flow throughout their terms. Unfortunately, the media has not spent enough time reporting on the source of the issue – and that is, the volatile situation in migrant’s home countries. Most families are coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, an area that the Council on Foreign Relations calls, “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle.” This article (and others) provides a very good understanding of what asylum seekers are fleeing; rampant violence, crime, forced gang membership, rape, corruption, and lawlessness are just a few of the reasons parents embark on the 2,000+ mile journey north. The trip is typically just as harrowing as staying put; migrants must navigate the cartels and human traffickers, sometimes paying thousands of dollars to kidnappers and smugglers to get them to the border. The administration uses words that label these individuals as criminals when most are simply fleeing life-threatening situations.
Ports of Entry, Illegal Border Crossings, and Asylum
There are a number of articles available online to those interested in these pertinent subjects. It is important to understand that migrants coming to our borders is not a “new” problem, in fact, it has happened for a couple hundred years. Migrants from Central America are also not new – as noted both the Bush (43) and Obama Administrations faced similar issues during their time in office. The number of people coming to our southern border today is actually less than what Obama and Bush faced during their time in office, a consequence of the root cause not being solved (violence, poverty, gangs, etc).
“Ports of Entry” are those designated as legal entrances to the United States. They could be on the physical border, seaports, or airports but they are where anyone wishing to enter the United States must show citizenship documentation (a valid passport, green card, or visa) or other legal evidence that allows one in the country. It is not unusual for the ports of entry to be “backed-up;” in previous administrations, the U.S. government worked with its Mexican counterparts to construct temporary tents to shelter people on both sides of the border while U.S. Border Control worked through the backlog. It will not surprise anyone to learn that the Trump Administration has done nothing of the kind and its combative relationship with the Mexican government has made migrant’s situation much worse as they wait to be processed.
We need to address the topic of asylum and illegal border crossings together. International and U.S. laws protect individuals that seek asylum status. Those laws require that those seeking asylum receive a fair hearing in front of a neutral judge and in accordance with our legal code. Now, as a side note, you may recall that A.G. Sessions recently decided that women seeking asylum due to domestic violence or fear of gang violence did not meet the standard of “imminent threat.” This is a change in interpretation of asylum law which I hope will be challenged in court because as you will note from my previous comments, many migrants are fleeing documented violence and a credible fear of death to themselves and to their families. Under international law, it is required that they are given a hearing,
When these asylum seekers cross the border between ports of entry, they do so illegally. However, the image of “illegals” running from border patrol seems inconsistent with the facts, at least with this group of migrants. These are not individuals who are carrying drugs or “smuggling” children as the Attorney General claimed. Instead, they are presenting themselves to border agents and asking for asylum status. Let’s note that again, this process happened to varying degrees under the previous two administrations and at times, in lower numbers. This is not “new” and they are turning themselves into border authorities.
The policy of “splitting families” is also not new – it happened under both Bush and Obama but only in very specific circumstances. Under Obama, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security increased the practice of detaining families, which was also a very controversial policy. But that one, at least, kept the family unit together. We should call out that President Obama was met with heavy criticism from the left and from immigration activists in 2014 and 2015 for its own crackdown at the border. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations contemplated a similar zero-tolerance policy (for about 5 minutes) but quickly realized they could never win the public relations disaster or the criticism they would face.
So what is this zero-tolerance?
The Trump Administration has changed the way it is prosecuting those crossing the border illegally, whether they ask for asylum or not. Remember that in this country, we are governed by laws and even non-citizens are afforded due process. Due process takes time, during which migrants must be detained. Sessions decided that anyone trying to cross the border illegally would be prosecuted for doing so, regardless of an asylum claim. That is one of the biggest differences between Trump and previous administrations. Under Obama, first-time border crossers who asked for asylum were given the benefit of the doubt and rather than prosecute them for illegally crossing the border (and thus, start the process of deportation), they held off until their asylum claim could be heard. Families were not split up but instead allowed to leave custody with the understanding that they would check in with ICE on a weekly basis through the duration of that process (which could take years). Of course, some of these migrants disappeared in the interior, thus the practice became dubbed “catch and release.” (Like sport-fishing – Those on the right labeled this practice similar to sport-fishing, Think about that).
Because the Trump Administration is prosecuting the parent for illegally crossing the border, a crime, and detaining the individual in “jail,” families are unable to stay together. It is truly that simple. He is prosecuting the parent (rather than deferring prosecution pending the asylum hearing) for a crime (which in most cases is a misdemeanor. That’s the process change. It’s not a law and it is not the Democrats’ fault. It is a process change meant to deter migrants from coming to this country. And it is clearly not working.
Why did the Obama (and Bush) Administrations not pursue zero-tolerance? Well duh: Exhibit A is on your TV screen all day and all night. Splitting up families to this degree would have led to a backlash (as we clearly see today). But perhaps just as important, the logistics are a nightmare. The government is not set up to take care of children – at least not on this scale. So far, under Trump, there have been multiple reports that parents and children have not been able to “find” each other; no official can explain how the administration is tracking migrant parents and children such that it knows where kids have been sent or are being held and who or where the parents are. Is there a database? I assume we are not tagging parents and children with the same number and I hardly believe that it is not as simple as scanning a barcode. Moreover, federal facilities have reported that they are near or at capacity. We are apparently contracting with private companies to build tent cities in the Texas desert to house more detainees.
Well, at least someone is going to make money off of this albatross.
Trump made an extremely complex and very expensive process sound “easy to fix.” It clearly is not, but we are living with the consequences of his ability to sell or con his way into the White House.
What is this policy not?
The images you see on TV are a small sliver of our immigration policy. The asylum and refugee process is only one aspect. It does not include unaccompanied minors who come to the border from Central America for the same reasons as families. You may recall a border crisis back in 2014 and 2015; tens of thousands of minors were detained at the border because their parents had sent them north to live with relatives (their home countries were too dangerous). Moreover, the families being separated do not fall into the categories of drug runners or human smugglers; those are separate problems. Finally, what is happening on the border and on our televisions has nothing to do with DACA, the diversity lottery visas against which Trump rails, or “chain migration,” better known as “family unification.” There are many aspects to our immigration policy which few understand even nominally. That lack of understanding is currently being used against us and against our better angels to force acceptance of a policy that we all know is wrong.
Oh. And this policy has nothing to do with a fucking wall.
There is no easy fix. If there was, it would have been done already. Let me start by stating the obvious: a wall does not solve this problem. Not at all. Jeh Johnson was interviewed earlier today (as he has all week) and he continued to make the point that we must address the problem at the source: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. We can certainly discuss and talk about how to do that, but I would suggest you consult a real expert or subscribe to a foreign policy magazine. Given that the Trump Administration has made clear that diplomacy is not its number one priority, I’m not sure “cooperating with our Central American partners” will prove fruitful. It is basic human nature to flee danger, especially when children are involved. Trump and Sessions can say all the mean things they want, but it will not stop people from coming to this country for help if their children are in danger.
Removing protections from gang violence and domestic abuse for asylum seekers seems cruel and sends a clear message to women that the Trump Administration does not care about violence inflicted against them. Sessions’ attempt to explain and defend his decisions using the Bible notwithstanding, the American ‘brand’ continues to take a hit around the globe. Finally, the administration’s decision to end temporary protected status of thousands of Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadorian refugees this past year – immigrants who have been here for decades – are now faced with the very real possibility of being returned to a country in which they and their families could face imminent harm and even death. We should all prepare ourselves for those eventualities because those stories will also hit the front page.
While there may not be an easy fix, the administration can certainly reverse itself. That would leave us with families in detention until they are initially processed. Those claiming asylum may be released until their case can be heard. We can hire more immigration judges and lawyers to reduce the backlog. But nothing in Congress – no bill being debated – “fixes” this problem. There is no instantaneous solution, but there are ways to get images off the front page of the New York Times. Given this President, however, there is nothing to indicate he is considering such a reversal. In fact, he has shown signs of using this crisis and DACA to extort money for his border wall and to significantly reduce legal immigration (which would lead to devastating economic consequences, including an increase in illegal immigration, falling wages, and declining productivity). Not even a “blue wave” will resolve what we are seeing today.
Allow me to opine
63 million people voted for Trump. The President enjoys an 87% approval rating among Republicans, which is partly why Congressional Republicans refuse to address any of the issues associated with this administration. While I typically shy away from partisan attacks and the “us vs. them” mentality, when it comes to immigration I think it’s pertinent. What we have seen on our TVs the last few weeks should be laid at the feet of the 63 million who voted for Donald Trump. It was very clear, from the beginning of his campaign, what he would do in regard to immigration. This is what it means to have zero tolerance. This is what it means to be a hardliner. This is what it means to be a Trump supporter. And yes, if you voted for him – this is your fault.
For two years, those of us on the left have been told that we need to understand the Trump voter; that we need to understand the anxieties that led them to a guy who had no experience in governing, whose business success was questionable, and whose foreign contacts were at best, murky. At first, we were led to believe it was economic dislocation from globalization and mistrust in institutions that led them to Trump. But as it turns out, in countless studies post 2016, the number one reason for gravitation to Trump was racial anxiety. I can remember my 2nd-grade teacher, Mrs. Potter, talking about the future of America and how someday, the majority of citizens would be non-white or Caucasian. We knew that in the late 1970s! What changed? In my opinion, small minded individuals became threatened and enough of them banded together and voted for a cult leader who told them to be afraid.
Now, some will argue that I am oversimplifying the intent behind 63 million votes. But am I? Immigration, and more specifically, the evils of it, was the one consistent theme (along with Crooked Hillary) during the Trump campaign. No one can honestly claim that they “had no idea that this would happen.” Bullshit. Nor can anyone claim that they voted Republican because they wanted lower taxes; it was an added benefit. Regulatory reform? Sure, you can try, but you knew that you were getting a xenophobic warrior. No, you voted for a guy who promised zero tolerance at the border. That may not have been the number one reason for your vote but it was part of the calculus or an acceptable risk. For that, you are accountable.
Some may feel I am too harsh and others may care less in my opinion. But this administration continues to get worse, not better – and even with a Democratic Congress, there is little chance of a swift course correction, We will live with these images for generations and there could very well be devastating impacts that those who support Trump cannot even fathom. The anti-regulatory policy will come back to bite us all, whether it be in financial disaster or environmental destruction. And all these conservative judges for whom evangelicals sold their soul, well they have a tendency in ruling along with a strict constructionist interpretation of the law, of harming “regular people.”
History will judge those 63 million voters and they will not be judged favorably. Family separation, defended by Presidential lies (nonsensical lies no less), and Biblical scripture once used to justify slavery, will be remembered and documented. This entire episode, as disgusting as it is, will only get worse if Republicans do not turn away from this President, his Cabinet, and this losing ideology. If they do not, it is up to the rest of us to drive the ideology and its adherents back underground and marginalize its supporters until it becomes clear that bigotry, racial anxiety, and hate have no place in the 21st century. No, we do not have to understand your anxiety and no, we no longer have to placate your concerns. If you are one of the 63 million, this is on you. Make this right. As long as Trump has your support, this does not change.
This is who we are right now. Is that what you want?