President Trump must be tired of losing so much on his immigration initiatives:

  • His travel ban — two versions’ worth — has been struck down by multiple courts, and he seems to have bagged the whole idea. (If he needed to come up with an “extreme vetting” scheme, where is it?)
  • His sanctuary city executive order was enjoined by a federal district court in California.
  • Mexico is not going to pay for the wall.
  • Congress is not including funding for the wall.
  • The public registers all-time-high approval for immigration, opposes the wall, and by a 90 percent margin wants to offer “amnesty” to those who learn English, hold a job and pay taxes.

Whether in actual courts or in the court of public opinion Trump has, to our relief, not turned his base’s anti-immigrant hysteria into policy nor made the United States into a country of xenophobes. There are several reasons for his stunning failure.

First, the lawyering has been arrogant and incompetent. Claiming the president’s acts on immigration are “unreviewable” and refusing to provide proof of the alleged national security urgency for a travel ban of seven — make that six — countries stunned outside observers. Likewise, insisting that the sanctuary city executive order was meaningless (just an exercise of the “bully pulpit,” government lawyers argued) was inexplicable. Hastily drafted executive orders and/or refusal to go through Congress helped doom the travel bans and sanctuary city order.

Second, Trump and the far right have for years consistently overestimated the public appetite for anti-immigrant policy. The anti-immigrant forces are loud in part because they have Fox News and talk radio to echo their propaganda. They also have intensity on their side. But a fraction of the GOP is still a modest slice of the public. And when push comes to shove, even red-state, border-state House members and senators resist the idea of a wall and other measures that would prompt a severe economic dislocation. We have often observed that the people who harp the loudest about illegal immigrants come from the states with the fewest number of them.

Third, states and localities are not going to play along with Trump’s nonsense. They know full well that illegal immigration is not the source of a spike in crime in a few cities. They know that threats of deportation make immigrant communities less cooperative with police. And, of course, cities and states most affected have diverse populations (e.g. California, New York) that are resistant to efforts to stir animus in their backyards.

Fourth, Trump’s immigration ploys have very little to do with national security. National-security officials compelled him to take Iraq off the list of countries in the second travel ban because Trump’s action actually made our war-fighting efforts harder. His travel ban sparked international outrage and anger from Sunni Arab allies whose cooperation we need in fighting Islamic terrorists. Refugees who go through a 18- to 24-month vetting process are not disguised terrorists. And Trump’s wall obsession threatened to provoke a backlash with our closest trading partner and ally, Mexico, with whom we cooperate on everything from drug interdiction to human trafficking. If ever enacted, Trump’s anti-immigration hooey would make us less safe.

And finally, Trump at some level knows that fairness is on the side of law-abiding, sympathetic immigrants, whether they are Muslim doctors traveling here on visas or young people who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or Syrian refugees fleeing a hell hole so grotesque that Trump felt the need to deploy military force there. Once specific victims of his policies are the focus, the public’s taste for his inhumane and counterproductive policies evaporates. We saw thousands of Americans take the initiative to go to airports when the first travel ban was announced — a moving and dramatic demonstration that America remains a decent, tolerant society.