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Incompetence Plus Malice Add Up to Trump’s Losing Formula on Immigration

A migrant sits with his children in Tijuana, Mexico, as they wait to hear if their number is called to apply for asylum in the U.S. (Gregory Bull / AP)

From the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the immigration issue has defined his political profile. More than anything else, it has opened a window on his authoritarian mind, his disdain for the truth and for democratic institutions. Such contempt has revealed the dangers of Trumpism to much of a nation governed, often imperfectly, by the law. The way immigrants are locked up in detention centers without trial warns us of the possibility of a police state.

Last week, the president’s braggadocio crumbled in the face of facts and the strategic opposition of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She clearly saw beyond the façade as she took the measure of her opponent.

Trump’s signature combination of untruthfulness, ignorance and arrogance became evident to the country on Friday when maps appeared on cable television showing planes stacking up at airports, sending passengers into a state of exasperation that transcends partisan politics. Those deficiencies were further exposed when he, while putting an end to the protracted government shutdown, used his concession speech in the White House Rose Garden on Friday to rehash his lying attacks on immigrants.

Trump repeated his call for a wall, arguing that only a wall would stop the drug dealers and other criminals from coming across the southern border. But he pulled back from the “Build the Wall” promises that stirred nationalistic crowds at his rallies. “We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shiny [sic] sea—we never did,” he said, insisting that he had never proposed one.

On the contrary, as Linda Qiu and Michael Tackett wrote in The New York Times:

Dozens of times during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump promised to build a wall along the southwestern border, usually saying it would be 1,000 miles at varying heights and costs. At times the building materials changed. He mentioned concrete, steel and, at one point, even a wall that would have solar panels. But a wall and the unsupported pledge that Mexico would pay for it were foundational elements of his campaign, and Mr. Trump has continued to make similar assertions throughout his presidency.

Except on Friday. Qiu and Tackett also picked up that detail:   … notable was something Mr. Trump did not say, namely that Mexico would pay for the wall. …”

As he had from the beginning of his presidential campaign, Trump trafficked in falsehoods Friday in the Rose Garden when he described the immigrants trying to cross the border into the United States as dangerous criminals.

Figures from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC), a respected compiler of immigration statistics, refute his claim.

As of June 30, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 44,435 immigrants in custody. Of these, four out of five had no criminal record or had committed only a minor offense, such as a traffic violation. Of the remainder, only 16 percent had committed crimes considered serious, which includes selling marijuana, now legal in many states. Of those eventually convicted of a crime, most were for illegal entry into the United States, a misdemeanor.

Another factor to consider is the incompetence of the way Trump administers his anti-immigrant policy. His former Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically reduced the grounds for immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. Under his plan, dangers posed to immigrants by criminal gangs or domestic violence were no longer accepted as reasons for granting asylum—a devastating legislative blow to those fleeing gang-ridden Central American countries.

Other restrictions on asylum were also imposed. When immigrants present themselves to border officers and ask for sanctuary, they are arrested for illegal entry. They are then placed in detention, awaiting a hearing in immigration court, or are deported, although courts have ordered some released.

Sessions also ordered judges in immigration courts to speed up their hearings and decision-making protocols. He claimed this directive was aimed at reducing the backlog of cases awaiting hearing in immigration court that involve immigrants either in detention or freed through the legal intervention of immigrant advocates.

The backlog, TRAC said, totals 1,098,468—more than double the waiting list in January 2017 when Trump took office. It would take immigration courts more than five years to work their way through the backlog. This explains why so many immigrants are held in detention for years without a trial in onerous conditions, and why those freed from detention are in legal limbo, subject to being stopped, questioned and improperly arrested.

When Trump shut down the government, most immigration hearings were cancelled. That gave the president a lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Rather than carry out his intent—hustling the immigrants out of the country—he has done the opposite and has increased the logjam.

In short, incompetence plus evil intentions have brought the country to this point.

Trump has been able to paper over his incompetence with bluster. The mass media has served as an accomplice. Too many stories focus on his performance. Sometimes, even his critics offer grudging admiration.

The shutdown ripped away the mask. Immigration was the central issue behind Trump’s closure of the federal government. His lies about immigration were exposed, as was his bungling execution of a cruel policy.

Bill Boyarsky
Political Correspondent
Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig. He is a former lecturer in journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Southern California. Boyarsky was city editor of…
Bill Boyarsky

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