President Trump is the single biggest threat to moderate conservative immigration reforms
As I sojourn with my wife’s family in McAllen, Texas before heading to law school in the autumn, I unwittingly find myself in the epicentre of the biggest political and social crisis to afflict the United States this year, with the federal government effectively enforcing a revised policy of separating illegal immigrant or asylum-seeking parents from their children when apprehended crossing the border, and then losing those children in an inept bureaucratic handoff between government agencies, including cases where the parents are later deported while their children remain in US detention.
I find myself witnessing this situation as a new immigrant to the United States, one who applied for a green card through marriage and entered the country in the proper lawful way after considerable time, expense and stress; I do so as a conservative who favours greater democratic control over the levels of immigration (though my personal preference is not automatically for lower levels of immigration to the United States, just for politicians to better consider popular opinion and uphold the rule of law); and I do so as someone increasingly convinced that President Donald Trump is the single worst thing possible to happen to conservative efforts for reasonable immigration reform and stricter future border enforcement.
At this point we are used to witnessing statements and events which would spell the end for any other presidency or administration, and seeing those outrages and scandals swiftly disappear into the rear view mirror as Donald Trump drives on unscathed. At this point, nobody seriously thinks that this latest drama will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the issue where Trump finally crosses the event horizon of political survivability. But it may well be the moment when conservatism totally loses control over the immigration narrative, when the media’s cynical conflation of all types of legal and illegal migration reaches its manipulative zenith, and when the Open Borders Left are handed the propaganda coup they need to grow in strength and influence.
This is one of those issues where conservative hair-splitting about unfair media coverage and lost nuance relating to the Trump administration’s behaviour will achieve precisely nothing – and rightly so. The fact that children (albeit not children forcibly separated from their parents) languished in holding pens during the Obama administration does not excuse or justify an extension of this kind of detention under Trump. Wailing that it is the duty of Congress to fix the issue (as many Trump apologists are currently doing) is particularly hypocritical, since Republicans control both the House and Senate and could act immediately on their own, and a supercharged executive office willing to issue far-reaching executive orders on almost any issue could dictate new instructions for the processing through the Department of Homeland Security in even less time.
Ignore the appalling public relations consequences of this policy for a moment – it is wrong on a basic level for asylum-seekers to be denied access to legitimate ports of entry in order to tacitly encourage them to make illegal crossings, thus triggering family separations, as is apparently happening. No matter how dubious some of these asylum claims may be, effectively closing the US southern border to all legal asylum claims before they can even be lodged is a grave abdication of any nation state’s moral responsibility. By all means detain families pending vetting and apply strict scrutiny to their claims. By all means find many of those claims without merit and initiate deportation proceedings where necessary. But the United States has a moral responsibility to at least consider those claims, and a country as rich as America ought to be able to easily build facilities for family detention before applying a draconian new interpretation of existing laws and regulations which would inevitably see greater strain placed on threadbare facilities and processes.
The American television news media was camped out in force in McAllen, Texas last night. Driving around, I saw MSNBC broadcasting live from outside the Ursula CBP processing center, in addition to a number of Spanish-language news services, while CNN were camped out in neighbouring Brownsville. These are media organisations which at the best of times actively sought to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration, going so far as to employ the euphemistic term “undocumented” to minimise the lawbreaking aspect of illegal immigration. These are the organisations which deliberately conflate all types of immigration and suggest with very little subtlety that legitimate concern about uncontrolled illegal immigration is the same as opposition to “immigrants” in general. And the actions of the Trump administration only vindicate the already ideologically-skewed position taken by the mainstream press.
The eyes of the US media, and increasingly the world, are focused on the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas because of an entirely self-inflicted crisis – both a political crisis for the Trump administration and a setback for advocates of stronger immigration control in general, but more importantly an humanitarian crisis affecting innocent children and increasingly the reputation of the United States.
When this immediate crisis is behind us – and Trump will end up caving, no matter how he spins it – those on the Open Borders Left will use this incident to tarnish anyone and everyone who advocates for conservative immigration reform and stronger enforcement. This will now be a millstone around the necks of anybody who dares to claim – against already-strong ideological headwinds – that our society cannot function if any degree of need serves as a valid ticket for illegally crossing national borders.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, as with the 2016 presidential election, the mainstream media are acting as such an echo-chamber on this issue that they have convinced each other (and me) that a majority of Americans are outraged by what they are now witnessing on television when in fact an electorally-viable plurality are perfectly fine with separating asylum-seeking parents and children in order to act as future deterrent. Perhaps. But my guess is that this inept, badly executed and deliberately callous policy execution goes too far, even for many people who support President Trump or are otherwise willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I see no upside here whatsoever. Certainly no moral upside – and it is the children, current and future, who should be our top priority in this mater – but no political upside, either. This is yet another one of those issues where hugging Donald Trump too close will burn conservatives to a degree they do not yet fully appreciate, even now. People are already talking about the administration’s pig-headed implementation of the family separation policy and subsequent tongue-tied response as being the “Hurricane Katrina” of the Trump presidency, the event from which an already-beleaguered administration never truly recovered. And Trump goes into this scandal with far less institutional goodwill than George W. Bush enjoyed in 2005.
So to my mind, we are faced with an appalling choice: either Donald Trump prevails with his policy and the mean-spirited attitude which bred it, in which case America truly has taken a sharp turn toward selfishness and authoritarianism, or he has overreached in a way which will quite possibly fatally tarnish by association the reasonable conservative argument for stricter border security and enforcement.
If, within the next decade or so, we see a de facto open borders position prevail in the United States, with even more overt encouragement of illegal immigration and even fewer efforts to prevent it or enforce the rule of law, then we may well look back upon this moment, this policy, this incompetent administration as the final catalyst.
It would be deeply ironic – but no longer beyond the realm of possibility – if Donald Trump ends up being the president who does more than anyone else to make open borders a reality in our time.
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