One of the more interesting developments in the shutdown standoff has been that President Trump and Republicans plainly feel under pressure to place more emphasis on the humanitarian dimensions of the migrant crisis than they did before.
In a Friday tweet, Trump bashed Democrats for failing to help address the “humanitarian crisis" at the border, forgetting to include the words “security crisis," as he usually does, though he quickly reverted to the usual demagoguery about border crime and terrorism.
And this afternoon, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel actually tweeted this:
It is truly touching that McDaniel is so concerned for the plight of all these migrants. During the campaign, when Republicans were persuaded that demonizing the migrants as criminals and terrorists would deliver them a big electoral win, McDaniel went on national television and staunchly defended this ad that Trump had tweeted:
That ad came just as the migrant “caravan” made up of mostly destitute and desperate families and children made its way toward the border. It featured an undocumented immigrant and crazed cop killer threatening more murder and mayhem, juxtaposed with visuals of mostly young male migrants trying to overrun fencing in large, angry, violent herds. The obvious point was to tar the migrants, whom Trump himself regularly demonized with absurd lies about the criminal element among them, as killers and violent invaders.
The ad despicably accused Democrats of letting that killer into the country and said Democrats “let him stay,” even though he sneaked into the country under both Republican and Democratic presidents and was deported under both. As The Post fact-checking team documented, “no one let him in, and no one let him stay.” Some Republicans denounced it as unconscionably divisive and “sickening.”
Just before the election, McDaniel adamantly defended this ad on CBS News, suggesting it was an emblem of the Democrats’ supposed refusal to help Trump address the border crisis, and flatly rejecting criticism of it.
Now let’s talk about the substance of McDaniel’s tweet. Embedded in it are two basic claims: First, that the migrants shouldn’t be making the journey, because it’s perilous; and second, that they arrive at the border in distress, which is what makes this a humanitarian crisis.
Those are both generally true points. But the reason we are not addressing these realities isn’t that Democrats don’t want to join Trump in addressing them. It’s that Trump will not permit any solution to them to go forward unless it also gives him the wall he wants.
The administration sees two basic answers to these problems. The first is to discourage migrants from coming by changing laws and procedures it says are a draw for the migrants, while making it harder for them to apply for asylum and succeed in getting it. This entails things such as separating families to deter them from coming (which Trump dropped after a ferocious backlash); cruelly trying to ban people who cross, often out of desperation, between ports of entry from applying (which has been blocked in court); and making it easier to lock up families together indefinitely to keep them from disappearing while waiting for hearings (which Democrats oppose as a humanitarian nonstarter that overstates the flight threat).
Broadly speaking, Democrats oppose these types of things because they are rooted in an underlying desire to let in many fewer people, regardless of their circumstances, to fulfill the end goal of having many fewer immigrants in the United States. Democrats also believe they don’t take seriously enough the need for investments and regional strategies addressing the dire conditions in home countries propelling these migrations.
The second set of solutions the administration sees can be found in the White House’s spending request, which, in addition to $5 billion in wall money, asks for hundreds of millions of dollars to beef up border infrastructure to better handle families and children and to unclog the backlog in processing migrants. As I’ve noted, Democrats support these things, and they really could be the basis for a compromise.
But that cannot be. Trump will not allow these actual solutions to the humanitarian crisis to proceed until he gets his wall. In effect, this means he’s holding hostage the very humanitarian solutions he claims to want in order to get the wall money. But the wall would not address those problems, as many asylum seekers want to turn themselves in and try to get asylum, not to sneak across the border. Meanwhile, the problem that beefed up security would address — adults looking to cross illegally — is at historic lows.
The only bright spot here is that the White House clearly sees a need to shift toward speaking to the humanitarian side of the crisis, surely because it’s losing the public, which properly views this as just that — a humanitarian crisis, not something that Trump’s wall would fix. Which is to say that three months of demonizing the migrants as criminals, terrorists and murderers did not work.