The harder line on asylum-seeking migrants the president signaled in firing DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other key immigration officials is taking shape. A new Trump memo to acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr calls for an array of efforts to make life miserable for migrant applicants, as the New York Times reports:
President Trump on Monday ordered new restrictions on asylum seekers at the Mexican border — including application fees and work permit restraints — and directed that cases in the already clogged immigration courts be settled within 180 days.
That these steps represent petty harassment of migrants to impress Trump’s immigration-focused political base is pretty clear, notes the Washington Post:
The order, announced in a presidential memorandum, comes as the president is seeking to mobilize his supporters with a focus on illegal immigration ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign.
“If the Democrats don’t give us the votes to change our weak, ineffective and dangerous Immigration Laws, we must fight hard for these votes in the 2020 Election!” the president wrote on Twitter after the White House published his order.
The administration seems to be testing the tolerance of the federal judges for actions that generally usurp congressional authority over immigration policy, often under the rubric of Trump’s controversial “national emergency declaration” in March. As Politico notes, there’s a lot of improvisation going on:
The Trump administration has experimented with a range of policies to discourage the arrival of Central American families and children at the border, but without much discernible success. Federal courts have sidelined several high-profile initiatives, including an attempt late last year to block migrants who cross between ports of entry from seeking asylum.
It’s not clear how high the new fees will be, or whether there will be waivers available for the often-destitute migrants fleeing violence and extreme poverty. Prohibiting these people from seeking work while they are awaiting adjudication of their applications for asylum will also impose real-life hardships, particularly on dependent family members. And there’s no way the new deadlines for adjudication of petitions in immigration court are going to work without miscarriages of justice, as the Times observes:
The memo did not make clear how the plans would be carried out in immigration courts. More than 800,000 cases are pending, with an average wait time of almost two years. The Trump administration added to that backlog when it directed immigration authorities to reopen thousands of nonviolent removal cases.
Despite the deliberately enhanced pain and chaos the administration is encouraging, it’s not at all clear these tactics will reduce the migrant flow; last month 103,000 migrants crossed the southern border, the highest number in more than a decade. The one thing Trump has accomplished, though, is to self-fulfill his claims of a “border crisis.” As the latest ABC-Washington Post poll shows, the percentage of Democrats calling the situation a “crisis” has risen from 7 percent at the beginning of the year to 24 percent now, though 27 percent still say it’s “not a serious problem.” Self-identified independents are somewhat more likely be to alarmed by the border issue, but Republicas — 56 percent of whom say there’s a “crisis” — are still driving the trend.
So Trump will probably succeed in making immigration a major 2020 campaign issue, though his ability to do anything more than frighten Americans and inflict pain on those hoping to become Americans remains in serious doubt.