The citizens of the United States — well, most citizens — do not have the luxury of viewing Trump as a marginal figure. Nonetheless, there are disturbing signs that key institutions in this country have also decided to shrug their shoulders at the president’s myriad transgressions of laws and norms. Sure, there’s an impeachment trial going on in the Senate, but it does not seem like GOP senators are taking their oath to be impartial very seriously. By the second day of arguments, nearly 40 percent of the GOP caucus had left their seats and the chamber while the House impeachment managers made their opening statement. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) suggested, “They want it to end. They want to move on, get it done, without witnesses and documents, taking cues from the White House, shut it down and get beyond.”
Now, it would seem that the judiciary branch is also learning to shrug its shoulders in the face of an imperial presidency.
Some context: There have been an increasing number of stories about U.S. Customs and Border Protection applying enhanced screening of Iranians and Americans of Iranian descent. While this has been going on for quite some time, it has become even more draconian since the killing this month of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani that was supposed to make America safer. One family, after waiting hours to cross the border from Canada, was told by a border official, “This is a bad time to be an Iranian.” The HuffPost’s Rowalda Abdelaziz explains, “People of Iranian descent, including Americans, permanent U.S. residents and those traveling with valid visas, have long been harassed at U.S. border crossings, according to experts and the individuals themselves.”
This is not great, but it is legal. CBP has considerable latitude to stop people at the border, even if all their credentials are in order. This month, Aziz Huq explained here at PostEverything, “Since 2001, the executive branch has stockpiled arguments for abrogating the liberties of ‘suspect’ populations. In response, Congress and the courts have competed over which can be more quiescent. The net result is a legal landscape that could enable overreach and abuse by a president not only firmly committed to norm-breaking but with a history of demonizing minority populations.”
What happens, however, when CBP does not act in accordance with the law?
Inside Higher Ed’s Elizabeth Redden explains what happened this week to an Iranian student who flew to Boston to attend graduate school in Northeastern University:
The Northeastern student, Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, attempted to enter the U.S. on Sunday but was held back by Customs and Border Protection agents for secondary questioning, at which point CBP officials detained him, revoked his student visa and issued an expedited removal order, according to an emergency petition filed Monday evening by his lawyers in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts.Later Monday night, a federal judge, Allison D. Burroughs, issued an order blocking CBP from removing Hossein Abadi pending a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning. But lawyers for Hossein Abadi said he was removed from the country on a plane bound for Paris after the order was issued.“We filed the petition around 7:30ish, then Judge Burroughs from the federal district court issued a stay order at 9:27, and then from our understanding he departed at 10:03,” said Kerry Doyle, a lawyer for Hossein Abadi....“Under our law, CBP has a second bite at the apple to determine admissibility,” [immigration attorney David] Ware said. “The consulate has the first bite in the apple, and they put the person through a security check. The consulate determined through various agencies of the U.S. that this person was not a risk to U.S. security. Then CBP turns around and revokes their visa and sends them home. Usually, what CBP will tell you is something came up in the encounter with the CBP officer in the U.S. that indicated to the CBP officer that the visa had been erroneously granted, and there was indeed some problem with the individual. It could have been a security issue, or it could have been some other issue.”
So, despite a court order that was supposed to halt the student’s deportation, CBP went ahead and did it. Given the truncated timeline, it is possible that CBP lacked the time to physically extricate him from the plane. Still, the fact remains that CBP broke the law.
As I understand it, even law enforcement agencies are not supposed to be above the law. Which is why the most disconcerting part of this story comes from the Boston Globe’s Deirdre Fernandes:
At the scheduled hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Richard Stearns said the case was now moot, since the student was already out of the country.“There seems to be some history of CBP ignoring district court orders, which should concern the court,” Doyle said during the hearing. She asked that Dehghani Hossein Abadi be returned to the United States, but the judge said there was little he could do to compel immigration officials now that the student was gone.“I don’t think they’re going to listen to me,” Stearns said.
So in Year Three of the Age of Trump, both the legislative and judicial branches have apparently decided to shrug their shoulders in the face of the executive branch’s disregard for the law.
One of the catchphrases of the early Trump years was: “This is not normal.” That is no longer the case. Welcome to the new normal, in which countervailing institutions do little but shrug their shoulders.