Several key points deserve emphasis.
First, no matter how she might have tried to temper the president or stay within shouting distance of the law, she will forever be known as the person who presided over the cruel, unconscionable family separation policy — and falsely denied there was such a policy. The notion, as the anonymous New York Times op-ed writer and other Trump apologists have insisted, that competent, law-abiding people must serve in the administration in order to prevent Trump from going entirely off the rails is nothing but self-delusion. If one works for Trump, one is inevitably required to compromise whatever values and standards one held. The only moral decision is to refuse to join the administration, or if already a member, to resign voluntarily (not get shoved out, as Nielsen seems to have been).
Second, Trump does have a political problem in that all of his histrionics, the shutdown, the phony emergency declaration, the minuscule amount of the new wall he has begun to build and the child detention horror have not stemmed the flow of asylum seekers. He is left trying to disparage their plight (e.g. calling them terrorists, asserting that their claims of persecution are phony) or make ridiculous promises (e.g. close the border). Solutions that might actually help — vastly increasing aid to the countries from which the migrants are fleeing and hiring more immigration judges — do not appeal to Trump, who has a vengeful, irrational approach. Immigration was arguably the most important issue in his 2016 campaign. He has failed and at this point might be panicked that his base will abandon him.
Third, no Democratic presidential candidate should follow Trump’s fear-mongering and anti-immigrant bashing. Nevertheless, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), appearing in Iowa, sounded rather Trumpian responding to a question on “open borders.” He declared, “That is not my view. I think what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. If your point is, open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world and you’re going to have people from all over the world, and I don’t think that is something we can do at this point. Can’t do it.” (And it is not the first time he has made this kind of remark.)
Of course, no one is suggesting open borders, although Trump accuses Democrats of harboring that view. Moreover, it’s inexplicable why Sanders should repeat the false, anti-immigrant talking point that more immigrants make us poorer. (Reason magazine observes, “Generally speaking, this is not true—the U.S. economy would benefit massively from simply letting many more people enter the country legally.”)
We are not “full,” as Trump says, and we will not be poorer with more immigrants. Moreover, the asylum crisis is not a border security issue since these people are presenting themselves at the border.
Fourth, Democrats ideally should offer a coherent and comprehensive immigration policy. The current crisis is a humanitarian one, arguably aggravated by Trump’s hostile relationship with Mexico, threatened aid cutoff and refusal to address the issue of asylum processing. (Actual illegal border crossings are historically very low.) Reversing Trump’s asylum-related policies, taking appropriate border security measures, increasing legal immigration as well as seasonal worker visas and regularizing those here illegally who meet certain requirements are the components of a rational policy. In short, Trump has managed to be both inhumane and entirely ineffective. Democrats should remind voters of this — over and over again.
Some are celebrating Nielsen’s departure — and if we are optimistic, perhaps her experience will serve as a caution to those in the process of selling their souls to Trump. The worst, however, might be yet to come.
“It is deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a written statement. “The President’s dangerous and cruel anti-immigrant policies have only worsened the humanitarian suffering at the border and inflicted vast suffering on the families who have been torn apart.” She added: “The Trump Administration’s increasingly toxic anti-immigrant policies were resoundingly rejected by the American people in the midterm election. America needs a Homeland Security Secretary who will respect the sanctity of families, honor our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants, and restore sanity to this Administration’s policies."
We’re not going to get that until Trump leaves office. Put that down as another reason for voters to boot him out in 2020.