The U.S. Border Patrol will no longer refer migrant parents who cross into the United States illegally with children to federal courthouses to face criminal charges, a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told The Washington Post on Thursday.
The about-face comes just one day after President Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s widely denounced practice of separating parents and children apprehended for illegally crossing the Mexico border. Trump’s order said the government would maintain a “zero tolerance” policy toward those who break the law, but the senior U.S. official, asked to explain how the government would change enforcement practices, said Border Patrol agents were instructed Wednesday evening to stop sending parents with children to federal courthouses for prosecution.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not throwing in the towel, however. The Justice Department still says it will prosecute. Apparently, the right hand does not know what the far-right hand is up to in this administration.

But this about-face, if carried out, will mark a full-scale retreat and repudiation of the Trump-Sessions policy of arresting migrants fleeing their countries. Insofar as they condemned past administrations for “catch and release,” that is precisely what they will do for those migrants with children. (From The Post’s story: “Because ICE lacks the detention capacity to increase the number of families it holds in detention, the official acknowledged that many migrant parents and children will likely be released from custody while they await court hearings.”)

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Once again, the Trump administration has embarrassed its cult followers. We have gone from zero tolerance to “What zero tolerance?” to “Trump can’t do anything!” to “Trump can end child separation!” to “Let’s incarcerate families indefinitely!” to ” No more zero tolerance — just don’t tell Sessions.” Now that President Trump is doing precisely what other presidents have done, will his followers coo about “zero tolerance”?

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Surely even White House aides (not to mention Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen) must be upset that the president sent them out to lie and then pulled the rug out from under them. Alas, no sympathy is warranted for people who are willing to go out and repeatedly lie to the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Not one has quit on principle over the entire border debacle as far as we know. One can only hope the fact that this policy was strongly backed by anti-immigrant zealot Stephen Miller will convince someone there that following his advice is politically fatal.

The real danger for Republicans goes beyond looking foolish for the zillionth time. At some point their anti-immigrant base is going to be demoralized — no wall, no zero tolerance, no “sanctuary city” threats (thanks to court rulings), no cuts in legal immigration. The “Mexico will pay for the wall!” crowd has gotten nothing, and for a president and a party increasingly obsessed with a single domestic policy issue — immigration — this would be a problem.

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To make matters worse, the House GOP has failed in its effort to pass an immigration bill that Trump would (maybe?) sign. The Post reports, “House Republican leaders abruptly postponed a high-stakes vote Thursday on GOP immigration legislation that appeared headed to defeat, despite President Trump’s last-minute lobbying.” That followed failure of a hard-line bill offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that attracted no Democratic votes and lost 41 Republicans, a powerful signal that the anti-immigrant right does not have support for its agenda.

The vast majority of Americans have figured out that this gang lacks a modicum of basic human decency. We all should therefore be thankful they also lack the basic competence to carry out their inhumane designs.

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