As this blog regularly points out, President Trump’s immigration agenda is absolutely saturated in a kind of bottomless bad faith that we haven’t quite found the adequate language to capture.
Two new reports reveal this in fresh detail. This matters to the public debate going forward, since the president’s border wall and obsession with arriving migrants will continue to be at the center of budget battles this year — and his reelection campaign next year.
The first report, from Nick Miroff and Karly Domb Sadof of The Post, vividly illustrates that Trump’s border barriers will not solve the problem of arriving migrant families. They depict in graphic form that there is a large “no man’s land” between the actual southern border along the Rio Grande River (where many are arriving), and the barrier site itself.
That’s because the actual border is in geographic territory where barrier cannot be built — so the barriers are getting built inland. It’s important to clarify that this is not the type of wall that Trump campaigned on. It’s the type of barrier we’ve been building for many years, under previous administrations, and it’s dictated by fact-based assessments by agencies, rather than by one man’s megalomaniacal desire for a massive wall that he can shout about at campaign rallies. The limited funds that Trump has secured only go toward the first type of barrier.
That aside, the point illustrated here is that families arriving to seek asylum must be admitted into the system, because they are already on U.S. soil — on that no man’s land — and they have the legal right to apply for asylum.
The Trump administration has sought other ways to solve the problem of arriving families — a trend that really has spiked, and really is straining the immigration system. These include new restrictions on the ways people can apply for asylum (some of which have been blocked in court), legal changes to make it easier to detain families together indefinitely to dissuade them from trying to come (which have gone nowhere in Congress), and making families wait in Mexico (which is in an experimental stage).
But the barriers in particular would not solve this problem, and members of Trump’s own administration know it. As The Post reports:
Homeland Security officials want lawmakers to grant them new authorities to hold families in custody until their asylum claims are adjudicated. They have launched a limited, experimental program to require others to wait for their court hearings on the Mexican side of the border. But in private, they acknowledge that the migration surge is likely to continue with or without a wall, and they fear it possibly could accelerate without changes to the U.S. asylum system.
We can debate the legal changes the administration wants on their own terms. The families are driven largely by terrible civil conditions in their home countries, which is why efforts by Trump to dissuade them with cruelty — such as family separations, which were nixed amid extreme blowback — failed to accomplish that goal.
Essentially, the debate turns on whether you think we should roll back our basic humanitarian commitments in hopes of discouraging these surges. If you don’t think this — as I do not — you will be more inclined to support aid to alleviating those terrible civil conditions, and investments and reforms that might speed up the asylum-seeking process. There are no easy solutions to this problem, and they all require difficult trade-offs.
But wherever you are in those debates, it’s beyond dispute that Trump’s national emergency is nonsense. It’s about securing more money to build as much “wall” or barrier as possible, and his own declaration of the emergency cites these arriving families as the emergency justifying this, even though the wall wouldn’t do anything about them.
Which brings us to the second report of the day, from the Los Angeles Times:
The commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon that deployments to the southwest border and funding transfers under the president's emergency declaration, among other unexpected demands, have posed “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.”
In two internal memos, Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the “unplanned/unbudgeted” deployment along the border that President Trump ordered last fall, and shifts of other funds to support border security, had forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries, and delay urgent repairs at bases.
The border deployment and funding transfers, as well as recovery costs from hurricanes Florence and Michael, new housing allowances and civilian pay raises, are taking a toll on combat readiness, Neller wrote to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Sending the military to the border was central to Trump’s efforts to create the dramatic impression, for naked political purposes, that the arriving migrants constituted a national security emergency. We’re now learning that military officials saw this, at least in part, as diverting resources away from other critical needs, and see the diversion of funding because of the president’s emergency declaration in similar terms.
It’s difficult to know what to make of this without more detail on what officials thought of the utility of sending in the troops in the first place. But this opens the door to more scrutiny of that question, and also to more questions about whether they think diverting more military funding to border barriers is not worth the trade-off, which would also undercut the “national emergency” claim.
Remember, too, that other aspects of Trump’s immigration agenda were implemented in similar fashion. The thinly-veiled Muslim ban went forward despite two internal analyses that undercut its national security rationale. The slashing of refugee admissions came after immigration adviser Stephen Miller actively buried internal data showing refugees are a net positive. The administration went forward with family separations despite official warnings that it could psychologically traumatize migrant children.
As these new reports remind us anew, the amount of bad faith we’ve seen in the implementation of Trump’s signature agenda is extremely hard to fathom.