President Trump tweeted on Sunday morning that undocumented immigrants should not be subject to due process under the law when they cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and should instead be sent “back from where they came” immediately.
Many people who cross the border already have no rights, but because the Trump administration has decided to prosecute border-crossing as a crime, many people who previously would have been sent back to Mexico are now tied up in the American judicial system. Trump’s tweet appears to both contradict his own policy and endorse an end to any legal asylum, which is the direction in which the government has been heading.
Beyond his enthusiasm for lawlessness — which he perversely but not surprisingly framed as “law and order” — Trump’s first tweet, with its conspicuous use of the word “invade,” is another example of the president’s increasingly disturbing rhetoric toward immigrants. It’s not easy for a man who labeled Mexicans rapists during his first campaign speech to go even lower, but Trump has appeared, of late, intent on dehumanizing his favored scapegoats more viciously than ever.
Last week, he accused Democrats of wanting illegal immigrants to “infest” the United States; his vermin-like characterization of foreigners quickly drew comparisons to rhetoric employed in past dark periods of history, such as Germany in the 1930s and Rwanda in the 1990s. This came weeks after Trump began routinely referring to members of the MS-13 gang as “animals.”
Trump does not (yet) have the power to suspend laws unilaterally, and his retreat on the family-separation policy last week shows that public outrage remains a potent force in American politics.
But the president is being more forthright than ever about the authoritarian playbook he’s working from. He has conjured an immigration crisis where none exists, continues to terrify his supporters about a group that is more peaceful than native-born Americans, and has become increasingly bold about his desire to revoke that group’s basic human rights. The world has seen this movie before, and it usually doesn’t end happily.