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Opinion A despicable performance by DHS

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) attend a House Oversight subcommittee hearing Wednesday into the Trump administration's decision to stop considering requests from immigrants seeking to remain in the country for medical treatment and other hardships. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the administration’s decision, since reversed, to deny nonmilitary deferred action requests, including those for seriously ill immigrants receiving lifesaving medical treatment in the United States. The decision was so inhumane and the reaction so ferociously negative that the administration was forced to reverse itself. This hearing, chaired by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), attempted to get to the bottom of the initial decision. Fat chance.

The two Department of Homeland Security functionaries sent to testify — Timothy S. Robbins, acting executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations, and Daniel Renaud, associate director, field operations directorate — were sent up to say nothing. Really, nothing. On the excuse of pending litigation they would not answer:

  • Who came up with the policy?
  • What was the reason for the policy?
  • Did it come from the White House?
  • What section of DHS issued the directive?
  • Is there even an official policy in writing somewhere?
  • Will they timely answer the committee’s written questions?
  • Did anyone think to calculate the potential loss of life?

Republicans and Democrats alike were clearly exasperated, and worse, this sort of “stonewalling,” as Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) described it, is not even unusual in this administration. Noncompliance, lack of preparation, recklessness and complete indifference to the effect of actions on real people is now the rule, not the exception.

The functionaries dryly responded that they had no idea why they had done what they did. It was chilling and horrifying. Not only does whoever made the decision (e.g., Ken Cuccinelli? Stephen Miller?) not think of the consequences, but the people who executed it did not challenge, object or question the directive. This is a ruthless bureaucracy that fails to consider immigrants to be human beings and does not even consider the possibility they will be anguished by the notice rejecting their deferral — and rather they will be in fear for their very lives.

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Raskin at one point told the officials that every student knows to ask the five questions: what, where, when, why and who. In this case, the administration was unable to respond to any of these.

After the hearing, Raskin told me, “The only thing saving us from the utter depravity of the Trump administration is its rank incompetence.” He added, “I was flabbergasted by the performance of these government officials who could not tell Congress who is behind this policy, why it was adopted, where it came from, when it goes into effect or even what it is.”

Several key points deserve emphasis. First, whenever a Democratic administration takes over, it should investigate the functionaries who have participated in inhumane and/or illegal activities and take appropriate action. In no event should they be placed in positions of authority.

Second, the entire ethic of this administration, as we just saw in the NOAA fiasco, has changed from following one’s oath and doing the people’s business to asking no questions and protecting the president. This is how Third World autocratic regimes operate. No one is responsible for anything; the code of secrecy defeats attempts to hold accountable those who conceived and executed policies.

Finally, the next administration will have the task not only of reversing heinous policies enacted across the entire federal government, but removing those who have failed to behave professionally and responsibly — and reinstilling a culture in which every government employee must ask of a directive: Is it legal? Does it do what is intended? Is it humane?

So long as we have a president who doesn’t care about any of those considerations, horror shows like this one will continue.

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