President Trump has responded to intense political pressure over the separation of children from their parents after they were arrested in accordance with his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal aliens violating federal law by crossing the US border. Trump signed an executive order last Wednesday requiring immigration officials to detain children with their parents who had been arrested for crossing the border illegally, and to obtain the necessary facilities to house and care for them appropriately. The Justice Department was also ordered to expedite the resolution of these families’ cases in immigration courts to minimize the amount of time they would have to be held in detention.
But less than a week after Trump signed the executive order, implementation of the zero tolerance order had to be suspended by federal immigration authorities because the detention facilities to hold those arrested crossing the border reached their capacity. As of Monday, people caught crossing the border illegally were no longer being held, temporarily restoring the former practice of “catch and release,” which effectively allows the illegal immigrants to disappear into the general US population.
The imkadministration said that the Defense Department is working to prepare new detention centers at US military bases and at other facilities, to enable the zero tolerance policy to be reinstituted as quickly as possible.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday that the zero tolerance policy was still in place. “We’re not changing the policy. We’re simply out of resources.” She blamed Democrats in Congress for not changing immigration laws in ways that would keep migrant families out of the country in the first place.
“We’re working with Congress, hopefully, to provide more resources and the ability to actually enforce the law,” Sanders added.
The administration said that the Defense Department is working as quickly as it can to prepare new detention centers at U.S. military bases to enable the zero tolerance policy to be reinstituted as quickly as possible.
SCHUMER TELLS TRUMP TO FIX THE PROBLEM HIMSELF
The president signed the executive order only after Chuck Schumer, the leader of Senate Democrats, rejected Trump’s call for bipartisan cooperation in getting Congress to pass a compromise measure that would fix the nation’s broken immigration laws and put an end to the decades-long problem of mass illegal crossings at the southern border.
Trump ran for president on a promise to halt illegal crossings by building a barrier at the border and deporting most of those who are in the country illegally. In January, Trump offered Democrat congressional leaders a deal to protect almost 1.8 million “dreamers,” young people who were brought to this country illegally by their parents when they were children, from deportation. In return, Trump demanded Democrat agreement to appropriating funds for building the border wall, and the elimination of two problematic immigration policies: the diversity visa lottery and chain migration. Democrats rejected Trump’s offer, forcing the executive branch to respond to the growing crisis at the border on its own.
The zero tolerance policy was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6, in an attempt to halt the 203% year over year increase in illegal border crossings, and the largest one month increase, in March, in the number of illegal crossings since 2011.
Despite the imposition of the zero tolerance policy, the number of families trying to enter the country illegally has continued to grow. This May, 9,485 families were detained trying to cross the southern border, six times the number detained the previous May. The bulk of those families came from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The zero tolerance policy requires that all illegal aliens caught crossing the border, including those traveling with children, be detained, tried as criminals and deported. It replaces the “catch and release” policy followed by the Obama administration which permitted most of illegal aliens caught at the border to disappear into the country. Catch and release was consistent with a long-term Democrat strategy which supports amnesty for all undocumented aliens in the belief that they will ultimately become Democrat voters.
The implementation of the zero tolerance policy led to a sharp increase in the number of adults and children being separated at the border and detained. Democrats and the liberal media circulated exaggerated stories about the alleged suffering of the detained children being held in government facilities, accusing the Trump administration of cruel and inhumane conduct. In fact, there were already more than 10,000 children being detained in those facilities during the Obama administration, which faced its own major influx of Central American families with children illegally crossing the border in 2014.
TRUMP’S SPOKESWOMAN EVICTED FROM RESTAURANT
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders became a target of anti-Trump protesters over the weekend when the owner of a Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, asked Sanders and her family to leave, due to the political objections by the restaurant’s employees.
On Monday, Trump came to the aid of his press secretary by tweeting “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
At the start of the White House press conference Monday, Sanders read a brief personal statement about the restaurant incident in which she said, “We are allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm. Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and the push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable.”
Sanders was referring to a statement over the weekend by radical leftist Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California calling upon Trump opponents to publicly harass all members of the administration. “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said.
Democrats initially failed to condemn and distance themselves from Water’s belligerent call. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi became the first national Democrat leader to express her disapproval by tweeting, “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable.”
SCHUMER CONDEMNS WATERS’ CALL FOR HARASSMENT
Later Monday, Democrat Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer offered a more forceful condemnation of Waters’ statement. “I strongly disagree with those who advocate harassing folks if they don’t agree with you,” the New York senator said in a floor speech. “If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action and vote them out of office. But no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.”
Trump also responded to the implied threat to his supporters by tweeting, “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Other members of the Trump administration and prominent supporters of the president have also suffered recent incidents of harassment. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is in charge of enforcing the zero tolerance policy at the border, was also forced out of a restaurant, and was heckled by a mob that gathered outside her private home.
White House adviser Steven Miller had his meal at a restaurant interrupted by shouts of “fascist.”
In Florida, state attorney general Pam Bondi was harassed in a theater and had to be escorted out by police.
MEDIA ATTACKS CREATING SYMPATHY FOR TRUMP
CNN commentator and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who is a Trump critic, says the campaign of harassment of Trump administration members and the intense media criticism is resulting in a significant political blowback. During a CNN panel discussion, Smerconish reported that some of his listeners who are also critical of Trump have called in to say “the way in which he’s been treated in the media or by the celebrities pushes me to a point where I’m almost sympathetic with him.”
In response to CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin, who supported the media’s criticism of Trump, Smerconish added, “There’s a perception in the country that it has gone too far. I’m not defending it, I’m telling you that it’s real and it’s out there, and I hear it from telephone callers on my radio program, on a day to day business. They don’t defend what Trump does. But they don’t like the way in which it’s been interpreted and covered.”
LIMITATIONS ON THE POWER ON THE PRESIDENT’S PEN
The Obama administration faced the same legal restraints on the mass detention of families, and the resulting public relations problems, which now face the Trump administration. A 1997 ruling by a California federal district court called the “Flores settlement,” which was negotiated by the Clinton administration, requires detained illegal alien families with children to be released from federal custody after 20 days.
Senator Schumer had claimed that Trump could easily solve the family detention problem at the border with the “swipe of his pen,” but in fact, the president does not have the authority to overturn the court settlement. That would require Congressional passage of the legislation that Schumer has rejected. Instead, Trump’s executive order includes a request to the judge who approved the Flores settlement to suspend the 20-day limit on family detentions to enable them to stay together in federal custody until their request for asylum is resolved in federal court. However, there is no guarantee that the liberal judge will agree to Trump’s request.
FAKE MEDIA MANIPULATION EXPOSED
Democrats were pushing the claim the Trump administration was deliberately mistreating the detained children. They hope to galvanize the Latino vote for their candidates in the November midterm election. The horror stories and graphic images of crying children became an embarrassment to the anti-Trump media when it was revealed that the pictures were taken in 2014 of children that were being held in Obama-era detention facilities. The cover of last week’s issue of Time magazine featured a Photoshopped image of President Trump standing over a crying two-year-old girl from Honduras with the caption, “Welcome to America.” It was clearly intended to convey the message that Trump was cruelly taking immigrant children away from their parents. In fact, however, the crying toddler on the cover had not been separated from her mother after they were detained at the Mexican border.
The conservative media claims that the blatant dishonesty of the over-the-top mainstream media attacks on Trump’s immigration policies has undercut their intended message. The Daily Caller wrote, “The media’s narrative about family separation at the border has been completely demolished, as the truth behind a viral photo of a crying Honduran child tells a completely different story.” It took a few days, but eventually the real story about what has happened to children crossing the border illegally is starting to come out. That may be true, but the image set in and the damage was done.
DETAINED CHILDREN ARE BEING WELL-TREATED
Of the approximately 12,000 alien children now in federal custody, about 10,000 reached the border unaccompanied by a parent, a trend which became a serious problem during the Obama years. Most of the other 2,000 children who were separated from their accompanying adult at the border have been placed in clean, safe facilities, located across the country, under the supervision of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement rather than the immigration service. The children get three wholesome meals a day, plus snacks, educational classes and limited recreational opportunities. Some of the children are placed temporarily by HHS in foster homes.
The minimum quality of the living conditions under which the children are detained are determined by the same “Flores settlement” which sets how long they can be held. The conditions mandated by the court are a far cry from the horrific descriptions of the child detention facilities by some Democrats, who compared them to Nazi concentration camps. Understandably, many of the detained children are deeply unhappy at being separated from their parents, but they are being well-cared for physically, and every effort is being made by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to make their lives as pleasant as possible.
On Monday, in a tweet, Trump rejected critics of detention centers where the children are being held, declaring, “Such a difference in the media coverage of the same immigration policies between the Obama Administration and ours. Actually, we have done a far better job in that our facilities are cleaner and better run than were the facilities under Obama,” Trump tweeted. “Fake News is working overtime!”
By far the most dangerous part of the odyssey of these children from Central America is the trip through Mexico, where they are at the mercy of criminals and organized gangs which prey on vulnerable immigrants.
FAST ACTION TO REUNITE CHILDREN
Trump said from the outset of the media uproar that he was always uncomfortable with the separation of children from their arrested parents at the border, but that he had no choice because of the demands of current federal law, which is one of the reasons he asked for Democrats in Congress to help in changing it.
The reunification of separated children with their parents has already begun. Just a few days after Trump signed the executive order, a government fact sheet announced that 522 out of the 2,053 children in federal custody had been reunited with a parent, and that there is a “well-coordinated” effort involving six federal agencies to bring the other separated children back to their parents.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (ICE) says that it has worked out a tracking system for children who are being detained in an HHS facility to reunite them with their parents and provide them both with proper travel documents before they are deported to their country of origin. In the meantime, HHS has set up a national call center and hotline to enable parents who are being held in ICE custody to locate and speak to their separated children by telephone.
The fact sheet noted that, “the United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.” Once they are reunited, the families will be held together at the Port Isabel detention center in Los Fresnos, Texas, until their immigration status is resolved.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, noted a complicating factor. There has been a more than 300% increase in the number of human traffickers and smugglers caught masquerading as these children’s parents at the border. They will not be reunited out of concern for the safety of the child. The HHS fact sheet said, “There will be a small number of children who were separated for reasons other than zero tolerance that will remain separated. Generally, only if the familial relationship cannot be confirmed, we believe the adult is a threat to the safety of the child, or the adult is a criminal alien.”
THE OVERBURDENED ASYLUM SYSTEM
While it is natural for parents to object to being separated from their children when they are caught, it was their choice to take the risk of crossing the border illegally instead of going through the legal asylum procedure at designated border crossing points.
Many of the reunited families are applying for asylum, adding to a backlog of several hundred thousand asylum cases waiting for an average of nine months before they are adjudicated. Economic hardship and lawlessness in their homeland are not sufficient to qualify a foreign citizen for asylum in the United States. They must prove that they are victims of persecution. As a result, the vast majority of asylum applicants are ultimately rejected, and are deported back to their counties of origin.
The US has long had a policy of granting foreigners who are victims of persecution in their native countries the opportunity to apply for asylum to live here legally as a refugee, but each case must be evaluated separately and there is no guarantee that the request will be approved. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which manages the immigration court system where most asylum cases are decided, only 6,300 asylum requests were approved during the first quarter of 2018. During that same period, 90,000 people were arrested for trying to cross the border illegally and another 32,000 legally applied for asylum at recognized ports of entry. So far, only 22% of asylum cases decided this year were approved, while 41% were denied. The rest of the asylum requests were dropped without a court decision.
Many recent border crossers have agreed to a “fast-track” deportation process in which their eligibility to claim asylum is determined by a preliminary interview. Those who meet the basic asylum qualifications are granted a court hearing, while those who do not qualify are scheduled for rapid deportation, with limited options for appeal, along with their children, if they request it. Past experience suggests that a substantial number of parents being deported will opt to leave their children behind in the US, especially if there is a trusted family member already living in the US who is willing to accept responsibility for the child.
TRUMP CITES THE COST OF ALLOWING CRIMINAL ALIENS TO RETURN
Meanwhile, President Trump has sought to remind the American people that convicted aliens who have re-entered the country, as well as members of violent gangs, such as MS-13, have taken a number of innocent American lives, and are responsible for a lot of the drug smuggling across the border.
Trump hosted an event at which the “angel parents” of these victims told their stories, and condemned the sanctuary cities across the country which protected the alien killers from arrest and deportation by federal immigration authorities.
The president then appealed directly to the American people through his Twitter account for fundamental changes in the current immigration policies.
“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country,” he wrote. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and law and order. Most children come without parents.
“Our immigration policy, laughed at all over the world, is very unfair to all of those people who have gone through the system legally and are waiting on line for years! Immigration must be based on merit. We need people who will help to Make America Great Again!”
At a political rally over the weekend in Nevada, Trump accused Democrats of backing “weak, weak borders,” and then added, “I think I got elected largely because we are strong on the border.” Trump said that the problems with the federal immigration laws should have been fixed years ago by previous administration, but it failed to happen because of Democrat obstructionism. Instead of finding a solution to the immigration problem, Trump accused Democrats of perpetuating it so they could be used against Republicans during election campaigns.
DEMOCRATS DIDN’T WANT TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
Democrats have long claimed to be advocates for illegal immigrants. Yet, when they had control of the White House and both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, they declined to use that power to put in place their own fix for the underlying problems with the immigration system.
The Obama administration was similarly conflicted over immigration. While it increased the number of illegal immigrants detained at the southern border, its “catch and release” policy made those arrests meaningless. When Arizona then passed a state law empowering its police to enforce the federal immigration laws that were being ignored, the Obama administration went to the Supreme Court to prevent its implementation.
For years, Democrats had claimed that they were in favor of border security, but wanted more “humane” standards for dealing with those who enter this country illegally. But as Democrats have moved further left, many have dropped the pretense of supporting border security and are openly advocating opening the borders to everyone who wants to enter the country. That was made clear by California’s Democrat senator, Dianne Feinstein. In response to a challenge by a more liberal Democrat challenger for her Senate seat, Feinstein has proposed a bill that would prohibit the arrest of anyone illegally entering the country within 100 miles of the border, and all 48 other Democrat Senators have endorsed her proposal.
CHANGING THE NATURE OF THE DEBATE
There was already a vigorous national political debate during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations over how to treat the 11 million illegal aliens already living in this country. Republicans argued for enforcing the letter of the law by finding and deporting all of them. Democrats supported liberal changes to current immigration law, while keeping many of the existing safeguards at the border intact. At the same time, Democrats argued for granting amnesty, including a path to citizenship, to the bulk of illegal immigrants who have been largely law abiding since entering the country.
But conservatives disagreed. They pointed to the Immigration Reform and Control Act which was signed into law by President Reagan in 1986, and made granted full amnesty and a path to citizenship to 3.2 million illegal aliens. Another part of that law was supposed to stem future border violation by punishing employers who hired illegal workers, but that part of the bill failed miserably. Instead of fixing the problem, the amnesty in the 1986 bill encouraged more illegal aliens to cross the border expecting that they would eventually be legalized by another amnesty sometime in the future.
THE GRASS ROOTS GOP REVOLT
The subsequent wave of illegal aliens further angered the conservative GOP voter base, especially in border communities which bore the brunt of the burden, making the immigration issue particularly divisive for within the Republican Party. Moderate Senate Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, who supported modest compromises on the issue, were bitterly criticized by grass roots activists who see any further weakening of immigration law enforcement as a threat to the American way of life.
For many years, the GOP’s Washington establishment largely ignored the outspoken grass roots point of view, but it came to the fore once again at the start of the 2016 primary campaign, and enabled Donald Trump to differentiate himself from the rest of the large field of GOP presidential candidates.
On the other hand, opening America’s borders to all foreigners who wanted to enter was opposed by most voters, including many moderate Democrats, as a dangerous and ultimately unworkable policy. But now, the leading left-wing activists of the Democrat Party, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Senator Elizabeth Warren, are openly endorsing the total abandonment of enforcement against illegal immigrants crossing the border with children.
Conservative columnist Jonathan Tobin notes that this new, more radical Democrat consensus on immigration issues has fundamentally changed the terms of that debate. It is no longer about “how to enforce immigration laws but whether we should do so at all.” Furthermore, by portraying any opposition to admitting illegal immigrants from Central America as the moral equivalent of turning back Jews trying to flee the Holocaust in Europe, Democrats have made any further rational debate about the issue impossible.
DEMOCRATS RACING TO THE LEFT
The resulting race to the left on the immigration issue by prominent Democrats has effectively destroyed any possibility of reaching a bipartisan legislative compromise. For example, New York’s Democrat governor, Andrew Cuomo, who has been mentioned as a 2020 presidential hopeful, and is now running for re-election, is facing a well-funded challenge from the left by Cynthia Nixon in September’s Democrat primary. She has publicly criticized Cuomo for failing to be critical enough of Trump’s immigration policy, and promised, if elected, to make all illegal aliens eligible for New York State drivers’ licenses to make it harder for federal authorities to arrest them. She is also demanding the abolishment of ICE, and an end to the arrest of all illegal aliens.
Some Democrat strategists fear that these radical calls from in-party challengers will force many of their mainstream candidates too far to the left on the immigration issue, costing them moderate votes in the November midterm elections rather than gaining them sympathy by blaming Republicans for the pictures of crying children who were separated from their parents. While many mainstream voters may believe that Trump’s hawkish views on immigration go too far, it is still far better in their eyes than the Democrat consensus which has been forming in favor of abandoning border enforcement altogether, despite such a policy’s obvious dangers to national security. Also, one need not be a conservative to recognize the liberal advocacy of the sanctuary city movement as a fundamental attack on the rule of law, weakening the very fabric of American society.
By refusing to respond to Trump’s plea to work together towards a short-term legislative fix for the illegal immigration crisis, it is Schumer and his fellow Democrats who look like the irresponsible ones. As long as Democrats have no practical answer of their own to the current immigration crisis other than open borders, the issue is unlikely to do them much good at the polls in November.
The refusal to work toward reaching a legislative solution to the illegal alien crisis, compared to Trump’s willingness to sign the executive order, has enabled the president to turn the immigration issue against the Democrats. Trump tweeted on Monday, “House Republicans could easily pass a bill on strong border security but remember, it still has to pass in the Senate, and for that we need 10 Democrat votes, and all they do is RESIST. They want open borders and don’t care about crime! Need more Republicans to win in November!”
LIMBAUGH EXPLAINS HOW TRUMP TURNED AROUND THE ISSUE
Leading conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh explains that Trump tricked the Democrats into taking an extreme position on the immigration issue which “has turned these people inside out, upside down. He has caused his enemies to expose their hypocrisy, to expose their lies, and to expose the fact that they’re dishonest when reporting so-called news.”
According to Limbaugh, Trump outwitted the Democrats and liberal media by signing the executive order requiring the parent and child to be detained together, which forced the left “to admit that keeping families together is not the objective. The real objective is to have nobody prosecuted. The real objective is open borders.
“When these people arrive here illegally, you catch ‘em and release them. All of them. Mom and dad, the kids, whoever the adults are. . . The objective has always been open borders. . . anybody who wants in gets in. The objective has always been amnesty for everybody here illegally. So it’s not about keeping families together. Trump found a way to [expose] that. . .”
“The Democrats and the Drive-Bys [media] are now screaming about children being detained with their parents, when just yesterday they were screaming about children not being detained with their parents. It’s classic. They got exactly what they want and then they figured out that it wasn’t what they want and that Trump outsmarted them again.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
While House Republican leaders struggled last week to round up enough votes to pass a bill reflecting Trump’s immigration policies, the president publicly advised them to wait until after the November election in the expectation that it would be much easier to pass both the House and Senate at that time than now. Trump believes that his original strategy would be best, to “build the wall” along the Mexican border rather than “hiring many thousands of judges and going through a long and complicated legal process [that] is not the way to go. [It] will always be dysfunctional. People must simply be stopped at the border and told they cannot come into the U.S. illegally,” the president tweeted. “If this is done, illegal immigration will be stopped in it’s [sic] tracks, and at very little, by comparison, cost. This is the only real answer.”
Meanwhile, the measures which have already been taken to resolve the border crisis must be allowed to play out. In compliance with Trump’s executive order, the federal agency will continue to reunite separated children with their parents. Most likely, Trump’s request to overturn the “Flores settlement,” will put pressure on Democrats to agree to pass a narrow fix to permit the new policy of keeping children and parents to be detained together without the 20-day time limit, as well as allocating more money to provide adequate facilities to house these families.
As for prospects for progress on fashioning a better immigration policy, resolving the fate of the DACA dreamers and fully constructing Trump’s border wall, all that will likely depend on the outcome of November’s election, and may have to wait for a Trump second term.