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Trump Suffers Another Big Defeat on Immigration

Show of defiance: A man from Honduras briefly straddles the border wall separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, before climbing back down on the Mexican side in November. (Gregory Bull / AP)

President Donald Trump has just lost another political battle on immigration, having been forced to back down on his threat to initiate a partial government shutdown over funding for his symbolic border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Early on Tuesday, he was busy pushing on Twitter anti-immigrant propaganda, claiming without evidence that “Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year. How was this allowed to happen?”

But soon after, the first indications of a political concession came from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who suggested on Fox News that there might be other ways to obtain funding for Trump’s border wall than by threatening a partial government shutdown. Only a week earlier, Trump had met Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer in a televised meeting in which he assumed responsibility for a government shutdown if it were to happen, going as far as saying, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Perhaps Huffington Post‘s S.V. Date was spot-on when he speculated on Monday that if Trump made good on his threat to shut down the government, he could play golf over the holidays with Secret Service agents going along without pay to protect him. Trump is scheduled to fly on Friday to his Florida golf resort for a 16-day vacation, and Secret Service staffers are among those whose paychecks are on the line over Trump’s threat to bring the federal government to a standstill.

Just as Trump had to backpedal on his formal policy of family separation this summer, he seems to have lost the fight over funding his beloved wall. As long as Democrats hold firm and reject Republican counteroffers, the most likely scenario will entail a continuing resolution to fund the government until Democrats take power in the House next year. This is a major victory for immigrant rights.

In matters of life and death, however, immigrants are still suffering, particularly new arrivals. The recent death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl named Jakelin Caal Maquin is evidence of the horrors being visited upon undocumented people. Maquin died within a few hours of being apprehended by Border Patrol agents at a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border. She was traveling with her father, who insists she was fed and hydrated, contradicting Homeland Security spokespeople who are instead claiming she was starving and dehydrated before being taken into custody.

Immigrant advocates point out the Trump administration policy of placing border sentries on bridges at international ports has forced migrants to cross at more remote and dangerous parts of the border. When asked to respond to Maquin’s death, Trump administration officials are blaming the immigrants themselves. Trump advisor Stephen Miller — considered to be the architect of the -resident’s harshest anti-immigrant policies—said Sunday on “Face The Nation,” in response to a direct question about Maquin’s death, “In fact, Border Patrol saves about 4,000 lives every single year. Unfortunately, hundreds die on the dangerous trek up.” In effect, Miller blamed Maquin and her father for her death. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed Miller’s sentiment in an interview on “Fox and Friends,” saying, “This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. This family chose to cross illegally.”

Given the cruel treatment the Trump administration has visited upon undocumented people since 2017, Maquin’s death should not surprise us, nor should the despicable talking point echoed by officials blaming her death on her family’s decision to migrate.

Additionally, children like Maquin continue to be housed in cages in the United States. A number of Democratic lawmakers traveled to Tornillo, Texas, last weekend to draw attention to the conditions in which a “concentration-camp”-like detention center is housing thousands of undocumented teens. Democratic members of Congress such as Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii called attention to the administration’s policy of keeping children in detention for as long as possible and criticized Trump and his aides for empowering authorities to go after any adults that might show up to sponsor the kids. Hirono explained the background checks that are required are “creating tremendous delay in approving these sponsors.” She added, “And I think it has a chilling effect on sponsors coming forward because this information, and many of the sponsors are undocumented, is shared with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and what ICE does is deport people.”

In other words, just as Trump’s policy of pushing migrants toward more dangerous routes endangers their lives, his entrapment of undocumented sponsors results in lengthy detention periods for thousands of undocumented minors.

The road to undoing Trump’s anti-immigrant cruelty is going to be a long one. The outrage this past summer over family separation that forced the government to backtrack, along with the coming concession on the border wall funding, constitute two major victories that ought to be just the beginning in the fight for the dignity for undocumented people. Democrats are vowing more oversight of the Tornillo facility’s detention of children, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are demanding an independent investigation into Maquin’s death.

If and when there is a greater reshaping of political power in Washington, Democrats ought to go even further in ensuring the architecture of immigration enforcement and mechanisms for legalizations are just and fair. For far too long they have been reactive in their approach to immigration in spite of broad public support for the rights of immigrants. Americans understand this is a moral issue.

Therese Patricia Okoumou, a Congolese American who scaled the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July as an act of civil disobedience, powerfully articulated that moral position when she spoke outside a New York courthouse this week: “[M]igrant children … simply came to this country, like our ancestors did, to seek happiness, freedom and liberation. Instead of welcoming them like Lady Liberty symbolizes, instead of treating them with kindness, what we showed them is cages.”

Okoumou, who put her own body on the line for her principles and was found guilty on a number of federal charges, including trespassing, added, “So if I go in a cage with them, I am on the right side of history.”

 

 

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…
Sonali Kolhatkar

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