Donald Trump has nothing against “lawful immigrants” — in fact, he believes they “enrich our society and contribute to our nation.” And the president certainly has no investment in maintaining the United States as a majority-white nation; he is, after all, “the least racist person you have ever met.”
The left might try to defame this White House by insisting its hard-line immigration policies are motivated by nativism or even white-nationalist sympathies. But the administration has made its true motives perfectly clear: It has not adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants out of animus for foreign people but simply out of reverence for American law.
“In a Trump administration, all immigration laws will be enforced,” Trump promised a crowd in Phoenix two months before his election. “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation — that is what it means to have laws and to have a country.”
Trump has repeatedly invoked this absolutist commitment to the law when seeking to justify unpopular immigration policies. The president never offered an affirmative argument for canceling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provided temporary work permits to 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. To the contrary, almost immediately after terminating DACA, the president claimed he supported protections for Dreamers in principle and implored Congress to write such protections into legislation. He didn’t want to hurt Dreamers — or use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with Democrats — he just felt the Executive branch did not have the authority to make immigration policy unilaterally. Sure, past Republican presidents (and the federal courts) might have considered deferred action to be within the Executive branch’s purview. But Trump was a stickler about the Constitution’s separation of powers. We are a nation of laws, not men. On such grounds, the president would later justify making America into the kind of nation that punishes migrant mothers by separating them from their children.
Of course, the white-collar-criminal-in-chief’s professed devotion to law and order was always a transparent fraud (this is a man who has publicly insisted that the attorney general’s job is to subordinate the law to the president’s personal interests). But even by this administration’s standards, its latest efforts to crack down on “illegal immigration” are gobsmacking in their hypocrisy.
Last week, the White House purged many of its own appointees from the Department of Homeland Security, suggesting that the president was looking to go in a “tougher” direction. Subsequent reporting has clarified that tougher was a euphemism for “lawless.”
Under U.S. law, any foreign national who sets foot on our nation’s soil has a legal right to seek asylum from persecution or violence in that person’s home country — if he or she can pass an initial screening conducted by asylum officials. And Congress designed such screenings with an eye toward minimizing the number of genuinely endangered people whom America sends back into harm’s way (rather than minimizing the number of economic migrants whom our asylum courts are forced to process). As a result, about 90 percent of those who claim asylum make it past the initial screening.
As violence and instability in Central America have sent hundreds of thousands of migrant families to our border, this law has created logistical problems for the Trump administration. Litigating asylum claims can take months, even years. And the United States does not have the resources to detain every asylum seeker who makes it past the initial test. Thus the White House finds itself in the position of releasing asylum seekers into the United States, likely allowing some number to slip into the country and thereby become undocumented immigrants.
For whatever reason, this administration cares more about curbing such immigration (even though undocumented immigration is associated with reductions in crime, and the U.S. has an acute need for more “low skill” labor) than it does about enforcing all of America’s immigration laws. As the New York Times explains:
To [White House senior adviser Stephen] Miller, the asylum process was a giant loophole that needed to be plugged. And he faulted the asylum officers at Citizenship and Immigration Services who were conducting the screenings for having a cultural bias that made them overly sympathetic to the asylum seekers. “You need to tighten up,” Miller insisted.
Immigration officials on the conference call did not disagree that too many migrants were granted asylum in the initial “credible fear” screening. But the rules for conducting the screenings were written into law by Congress and designed to be generous so that persecuted people had a real opportunity to seek asylum. It was unclear, the officials said, what else the agency could do.
In a separate conversation, President Trump implored then–DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to ban migrants from seeking asylum.
Ms. Nielsen explained why she could not do that, citing economic and legal issues — banning migrants from seeking asylum would be against the law.
When Ms. Nielsen did not give the president the answer he sought, he turned to Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, and asked him to stop migrants from entering the country. Mr. Trump told Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he ran into any legal problems, according to officials familiar with the conversation — though he denied it in a tweet Saturday night.
It is abundantly clear, then, that the Trump administration’s fanatical opposition to illegal immigration is not rooted in a commitment to upholding U.S. law but rather in some other concern it does not wish to speak in public.