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President Trump's trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

By Jackie Spinner
President Trump's trade war threatens the US newspaper industry
Sauk Valley Newspapers editor Jeff Rogers publishes two newspapers out of one newsroom in rural Illinois. MUST CREDIT: Photo by David Kasnic for The Washington Post.

STERLING, Ill. - As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newspapers for towns just 16 minutes apart, the Daily Gazette in Sterling and the Dixon Telegraph, which started up more than a century and a half ago.

Each publishes a few stories a day on its website and Facebook page - a sign of the times - but still tries to preserve a local print readership, putting its full reports in the newspapers that are available by home delivery and in the metal boxes dotting the local downtowns.

The newspapers, like the staff, are leaner than they were a decade ago, with fewer reporters to write about crime, the school board and youth sports and to craft obituaries for their aging readership.

And now they're facing a new and unexpected threat: President Donald Trump's confrontational trade policies.

Last year, in one of the Trump administration's first actions on trade, the U.S. government imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber. A few months later, it added tariffs on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper.

The result has been a jump in the cost of newsprint, the second-biggest operating expense after salaries for most newspapers. Rogers and fellow news executives across the country are now bracing for price increases that could exceed 30 percent, forcing tough budget decisions and potentially driving some community papers out of business.

"This may be the thing that pushes us across the line," Rogers said. "We're all kind of close to that edge."

Shaw Media, one of the oldest family-owned newspaper companies in America and the publisher of the Daily Gazette and the Dixon Telegraph, has told some of its more than 150 publications in northern Illinois and Iowa to adhere to strict page counts to reduce costs. The Tampa Bay Times, a regional paper in Florida, is cutting up to 50 jobs because of the soaring paper costs, which affect every newspaper that publishes in America, including large national publications scorned by Trump.

"This is the biggest issue we've faced in a long time, if ever," said Sam Fisher, president of the Illinois Press Association.

The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed the tariffs in response to a complaint from the North Pacific Paper mill in rural Washington state, which said Canadian paper manufacturers were being subsidized by their government and were therefore able to offer lower prices, giving them an unfair advantage over their U.S. counterparts. The U.S. mill, which was bought in 2016 by New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, is one of five left in the United States.

Under U.S. trade law, the government can impose import tariffs after investigations and rulings by the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission, an independent, bipartisan federal agency. The Commerce Department investigates and determines whether anti-dumping and countervailing have occurred, which did in this case. (Anti-dumping occurs when goods are sold for less than fair market value, and countervailing is when the goods are subsidized by a foreign government.)

The trade commission determines whether U.S. industry is harmed by the imports. Both the Commerce Department and the ITC found in preliminary investigations that imported uncoated groundwood paper was subsidized by the Canadian government and was then being sold below market value in the United States.

The Commerce Department levied its first tariff of 6.5 percent in January and added an additional 22 percent tariff in March. The ITC, which has five bipartisan members selected by previous administrations, is set hold a hearing on the issue July 17 and is expected to release its final determination this summer. Both groups must agree to make the tariffs permanent for them to remain.

The American Forest and Paper Association, like most of the paper and publishing industry, is opposed to the tariffs.

"The uncoated groundwood and newsprint market is a North American market," said Donna Harman, the group's chief executive. "Several U.S. producers operate on both sides of the border, creating manufacturing and market efficiencies through cross-border shipments."

David Richey, a spokesman for NORPAC (the North Pacific Paper Co.), said the mill in Longview, Washington, meets almost half the U.S. demand for newsprint and employs 400 full- and part-time workers. Since the tariffs were imposed, the plant has started up an idled paper machine and brought back 50 full- and part-time employees. The plant is now at full capacity, he said, producing 800,000 tons of paper and packaging annually.

"This is in rural southwest Washington, where companies like NORPAC are critical drivers," he said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has characterized the impact on the newspaper industry as minimal, noting at a Senate budget hearing in May that the tariff would result in a one-cent-per-paper daily increase for the Wall Street Journal and a two-cent-per-paper increase for the Daily News in Longview, Washington. "There is an impact, but I think it's useful to have this perspective what it really means," he said.

Kristine Coratti Kelly, a spokeswoman for The Washington Post, said that all publications that use newsprint will be affected but that "it will have a greater impact on the readers of smaller papers."

David Thornberry, publisher of the Longview Daily News, which has a circulation of about 12,000 on weekdays and 15,000 on Sundays, said the tariff increase will be closer to five cents per copy. Even that might not sound like a lot, he said, but it amounts to at least two reporter positions. (The newsroom has 17 employees.)

"The problem is you have over half your expenses wrapped up in two things," he said. "You can't fix this with cutting office supplies."

The paper has written about the tariffs and the jobs that were added back to the plant. It's been a delicate balance, he said.

"This is like hopscotch on landlines for me," Thornberry said. "We're fighting hard to get good employment going, but from a newspaper perspective, this is insane."

Thornberry doesn't blame NORPAC for trying to increase profit. If someone offered to pay him when Americans tune into the BBC, he said he'd be tempted to take the money. But he doesn't buy the argument that this is good for the newsprint industry.

"If they win this thing, it's going to hurt them ultimately," he said. "They can only handle half of the newsprint for the industry. Most of the problems with the newspaper plants have been in supply and demand. No one gets a really great result from a trade war."

The Trump administration has also imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, levying 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, even on its allies of Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

It recently added tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods, which Beijing immediately matched, just as Canada retaliated with its own tariffs against the U.S. on products as varied as metal pipe, orange juice and toilet paper.

Commercial press operations that use aluminum plates to print newspapers are hurt by two of those tariffs - on newsprint and aluminum.

Uchechukwu Jarrett, an assistant economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said tariffs almost always affect more than the product being targeted, which is the case with newsprint.

"This is one company that has a problem with their own revenue stream," he said. "If you're having a rational argument, it would be plusses and minuses. If we do this to save one company, what are the losses? We lose a whole bunch of community newspapers."

Nearly half the newspapers surveyed by the Illinois Press Association had reduced their page counts in early May because of the newsprint tariffs. If the tariffs become permanent, 40 percent of the respondents said they expected to reduce staff, and more than half would not fill open positions. Others planned to reduce publishing days or change the size of their format. Some said they would stop printing for civic and community groups, which they do free.

"I have major concerns for the whole industry but especially small community papers in rural America, where papers have a very strong presence in people's everyday lives," said Rick Campbell, a partner in C & R Media, which owns five small newspapers in Southern Illinois.

Campbell said printing costs will rise $20,000 this year because of the tariffs.

"I'm very rural," he said. "I have four community papers under 2,000 circulation. When you talk about those small numbers, that's significant. This increase in cost for me is actually hiring someone, another paid employee."

Jeff Egbert, who publishes the Pinckneyville Press and DuQuoin Weekly in Southern Illinois, said a 30 percent increase in costs will make it difficult for his papers to do the kind of investigative reporting they are known for: exposing a police coverup involving the mayor's son and uncovering a schools superintendent's mishandling of surplus equipment that led to his resignation.

"We're not going to be able to increase our rates and pass it along because our market can't bear it," Egbert said. "So we're either going to have to reduce the number of newspapers we print, increase our subscription rate or we're going to have to look very hard at our employment situation."

Egbert, who describes himself as conservative, like many of his papers' readers, said the president's war on the media makes him question the motives behind the tariffs.

"I'm not sure these newspaper tariffs weren't intended to cut at the core of the newspaper business," he said. "Maybe this wasn't done to hurt us, but it trickles down to me in the Midwest."

A coalition of newspaper publishers, printers and suppliers is lobbying against permanent tariffs, arguing that newspaper demand is down in the United States because readers - and advertisers - have moved from print to the digital space.

"A lot of us view this as an assault at the federal level on us," said Don Bricker, vice president of operations for Shaw Media. "Who we are and what we are as a civic asset has to be considered."

In the Senate, 23 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have signed on to the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would stop the tariffs until Congress and the administration can review their impact. During a May hearing with the Commerce secretary, Collins told Ross that the newsprint tariffs were "harming the industry they were intended to protect."

One of the companies feeling the effect is Paddock Publications, which publishes the Daily Herald, monthly Business Ledger and weekly Reflejos in suburban Chicago and 17 publications in central and southern Illinois. Paddock owns its commercial printing plant and buys paper directly from a Canadian supplier.

Most of the paper rolls arrive by train (eight to 10 rail cars a month) on the Canadian Pacific Railway. A spur ends at Paddock's plant, which does the printing for the papers Paddock owns and for others in the region, including the Daily Gazette in Sterling and the Telegraph in neighboring Dixon.

Don Stamper, production director, said Paddock has a six- to eight-week supply of paper at the plant. The brown rolls, stacked high and stamped with "Made in Canada" in English, French and Spanish, come from Canadian company Resolute Forest Products, which has a plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about a 10-hour drive north.

"We've gotten more calls about little newspapers for sale this year than I can ever remember," said Scott Stone, chief executive of the Daily Herald Media Group. "More and more, we're seeing smaller newspapers and people who own them are getting out of the business. There is almost nothing you can do about the digital disruption in our industry. But then to have this push from behind, particularly by the government, is concerning."

Stone said the Daily Herald has reduced pages and combined sections to save money. It also is not filling vacant positions.

"Otherwise we'd be having a normal year where we replace people who left the paper," he said. "In these kinds of circumstances, you really can't. We don't know what is coming next. We have this hearing coming up in July. Are these tariffs going to go into place? Are they going to be more severe? And then what do you do?"

Four years after Michael Brown was killed, a Ferguson neighborhood still feels left behind

By Tracy Jan
Four years after Michael Brown was killed, a Ferguson neighborhood still feels left behind
A weathered memorial sits at the corner of West Florissant and Ferguson avenues on May 28 in Ferguson. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu.

FERGUSON, Mo. - When Starbucks opened here in 2016, politicians celebrated, predicting that the coffee chain would revitalize a city marred by violent protests over Michael Brown's killing two years earlier.

Other corporations jumped in with multimillion-dollar commitments to help rebuild the majority-black town that became a global symbol of racial and economic inequality.

But four years after the unrest, nearly all of the new development is concentrated in the more prosperous - and whiter - parts of town, bypassing the predominantly black southeast neighborhood where Brown was fatally shot by a police officer while walking to his grandmother's home.

The investments, rather than easing the economic gap, have deepened that divide.

"This is the forgotten Ferguson," said Francesca Griffin, a St. Louis native who moved to the inner-ring suburb 13 years ago for the more-affordable home prices. "Time and time again, West Florissant Avenue just gets left out. And people are losing hope."

The growing disparity is the result of decisions, large and small, that capture the difficulties of overcoming a legacy of racial segregation, economic exclusion and political disenfranchisement.

In Ferguson's case, obstacles have included a corporate mindset willing to take on only so much risk, a seeming lack of political will and a disadvantaged community's inability to promote its own interests.

Of the more than $36 million in bricks-and-mortar development that poured into the city after 2014, only $2.4 million - for a job training center - has directly benefited this isolated pocket of Ferguson, according to an analysis of building-permit data provided by the city.

"Nobody has presented to me any forensic evidence that shows that the stock of a household in black Ferguson has been improved since the death of Mike Brown," said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis NAACP."At the end of the day, where is the significant transformation of the lives of the people who live in that part of Ferguson, who suffered the most during all of this?"

It's easy to see where the money did go: South Florissant Road runs through the heart of Ferguson's historic downtown on the west side, close to stately Victorians with wraparound porches. Since 2014, new investment has bolstered this pedestrian-friendly "main street," now lined with restaurants, loft apartments, a cigar lounge - steps from City Hall, the police department and the public library.

Parallel to that in southeast Ferguson, West Florissant Avenue traverses a half-mile stretch of liquor, fast-food and beauty supply stores and a vacant lot where businesses had been torched. The commercial strip services a neighborhood dominated by five sprawling apartment complexes, as well as modest single-family homes.

"Driving up and down West Florissant, you get the cold, uncomfortable feeling of the past, like nothing has changed - because nothing has changed," said Joshura Davis, who has owned an insurance company and a home-health-care service in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years.

The sole sign of progress is the job training center run by the Urban League, built on the site of the QuikTrip gas station burned down by protesters.

Residents say they want more: Access to affordable fresh food, restaurants, retail stores, a park, sidewalks and streets free of potholes.

"Once the dust settled, I looked around and went, 'None of this is any better,' " said Felicia Pulliam, who served on an independent commission appointed by the governor to examine racial inequality in Ferguson. "It's really a matter of leadership and the old guard perpetuating the same practices that got us to the uprising."

On a recent morning, an elderly woman with a cane trudged into Sam's Meat Market - a liquor store that also sells meat - and waved a $1 bill at the cashier for a nip of vodka. Others had walked across four lanes of traffic on West Florissant Avenue for lottery tickets and cigarettes.

Nader Abde, the 32-year-old shop owner who grew up in the Canfield Green apartments across the street, lamented the slow trickle of customers. Half the neighborhood, it seemed to him, had moved out after the protests.

"That's all we're known for," Abde said. "Businesses are afraid to invest."

- - -

Canfield Drive runs off West Florissant Avenue and winds into the neighborhood where, on Aug. 9, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking and, after a scuffle, shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old. Wilson was not indicted.

For nearly a year after the protests started, West Florissant remained strewn with the charred rubble of buildings - even as the downtown was being fixed up, residents and business owners recalled.

"Part of the reason people did not feel encouraged to come back here and rebuild it is because the place looked like Syria," said Chris Phillips, a 37-year-old filmmaker who moved into the Canfield Green apartments in 2005.

Once a white "sundown" community that mandated African American domestic workers leave town by sunset, now two-thirds of Ferguson's 21,000 residents are black.

Median family income in the densely populated southeast is approximately $25,000 a year, compared with $42,000 for Ferguson as a whole, according to an analysis of 2016 Census data by Rise Community Development. More than 40 percent of households in some parts live in poverty. Nearly a fifth of working residents don't own cars.

Poverty has been rising over the past decade, since building owners used state and federal tax credits to convert two apartment complexes to low-income housing - a decision that makes it difficult to attract developers.

"They think if you open anything in that area, it's going to be vandalized or robbed," said Justin Hansford, a Howard University law professor who taught economic justice at Saint Louis University School of Law when Brown was killed. He says city officials should have done more to draw investors. "The same people who are calling the shots and creating the development are intentionally deciding not to develop that corner of Ferguson."

City officials say the downtown business corridor on the other side of Ferguson was simply ahead of the game, having formed a self-taxing special district in the 1980s that spurred development and made it easier to rebound after the unrest.

The city council in 2015 granted a local developer $848,000 to build a pizzeria and loft apartments, using a subsidy program for downtown businesses that was designed to reverse urban blight. But West Florissant has yet to begin the long process that would make it eligible for such incentives.

"The West Florissant community wasn't as organized," said De'Carlon Seewood, Ferguson's city manager.

In 2016, the city passed a sales tax to pay for road repairs and upgrades to business properties. But state law prohibits the money from being used for retail development outside of a downtown or historic district.

The West Florissant commercial strip is also handicapped by geography, with the Ferguson stretch sandwiched between two other cities with their own zoning and planning priorities.

The neighborhood was dealt a further blow in March, when the U.S. Transportation Department rejected a grant proposal to plant trees, repave roads and add sidewalks, crosswalks and streetlights.

Seewood said he understands the frustrations of residents and business owners - but he also realizes that developers are wary. "You don't want to toss money into something that's not going to be sustainable," he said.

It's not just businesses that are hesitant to move into the neighborhood.

Randy Lipton, a real estate developer whose family has owned the Canfield Green apartment complex for four decades, said the vacancy rate jumped from just over 10 percent to 75 percent in the year after Brown was killed.

That prompted him to start accepting Section 8 vouchers for rents starting at $515 a month.

But the 400-unit Canfield Green development remains half-empty.

"There's still a stigma attached to our apartments because he was shot in Canfield Green on a street called Canfield Drive," Lipton said.

Frustrated by the slow pace of change, Lipton offered to donate two acres of land to the city for a playground, splash park and garden. The city planning commission rejected the offer, citing its inability to maintain the grounds.

"It's very, very discouraging how little has happened here," Lipton said. "I can't do things to fix Canfield Green and leave everything else surrounding us the way it is and expect things will change."

Lipton said he is concerned that corporate interest in Ferguson will dry up without the southeast getting its share.

"The more time that goes by, the more steam you lose from the standpoint of being able to raise money from corporations that want to get behind something when it's a hot topic," he said.

- - -

This was not the ripple effect of economic opportunity city officials predicted when Howard Schultz, then Starbucks's chief executive, toured the burned-out buildings and boarded-up storefronts and pledged to invest in the community.

The coffee chain opened a 2,200-square-foot cafe and drive-through in 2016, promising to hire local youth. Starbucks marketed the Ferguson store as a community center, providing free meeting space and hosting quarterly coffees with police. It backed an African American baker whose business was damaged during the unrest, selling her caramel cakes in 32 St. Louis-area stores.

Upon its opening, St. Louis County Council member Hazel Erby said that Starbucks would create "jobs, revitalization, economic opportunities" and restore "community pride."

But its location by the interstate on the northern edge of town has had little impact on the public-transit-dependent residents of Canfield Green, more than two miles away.

Residents say they rarely, if ever, venture up to the Starbucks.

"Starbucks doesn't impact me whatsoever," said Darryl Howard, a retired warehouse supervisor who has lived at Canfield Green for more than 30 years. "I have a very nice coffee maker sitting on my counter."

None of Starbucks's 19 sales associates come from that corner of town. But store manager Cordell Lewis said his hires live within a five-mile radius of the store and face their own challenges, including homelessness.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the location was chosen for its proximity to major retail, such as a Walmart Supercenter and Sam's Club.

Lured by a 50 percent break on property taxes for 20 years, St. Louis-based health insurer Centene opened a claims-processing center off the interstate two weeks before the Starbucks.

"I wanted all the small businesses to see one of the largest companies in the state making a commitment to Ferguson," chief executive Michael Neidorff said in a recent interview.

He said the center brought 250 jobs to the area, paying an average salary of $36,000 a year. He would not say how many of the new employees hail from southeast Ferguson.

Neidorff said he was not aware that the neighborhood had been largely left behind in the rush to redevelop the downtown core and northern edge.

"I don't know that anybody is paying any attention to it," he said.

Emerson Electric, a manufacturing and technology company headquartered blocks from Canfield Green, added a new building on its 207-acre campus after Brown's death.

The company said it did not seek a property-tax abatement. But Walter Johnson, a professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University who has examined economic and racial segregation in Ferguson, notes that Emerson had earlier benefited from a low assessment value of its property. He said that the low assessment deprived Ferguson of needed tax dollars and that in the aftermath of the protests, the Fortune 500 company had a moral responsibility to the neighborhood on its doorstep.

An Emerson spokesman said the company has committed more than $16 million since 2014 to programs benefiting north St. Louis County, such as early-childhood education and college scholarships. That amount includes money redirected to Ferguson from Emerson's regular giving to the United Way.

Johnson said Emerson's gift promotes the idea of "philanthropy as a more appropriate form of corporate citizenship than paying taxes and genuine civic engagement."

"That's a way of establishing corporations as the arbiters of social equality and justice in America," he said.

- - -

Last summer's opening of the Urban League Community Empowerment Center on the site of the QuikTrip was supposed to deliver real change to the people who need it the most.

The building, which also houses the Salvation Army, offers a job training program for men, along with a closetful of suits, shoes and ties for those who land interviews.

"The community needs to see something really quickly. They need to see change, to show the community that we are on the rebound," said Michael McMillan, president and chief executive of the St. Louis chapter of the Urban League who raised money from Centene, Emerson, Starbucks and other companies.

Residents welcomed its arrival, but some say they wish the QuikTrip had been rebuilt so they could buy food or medicine late at night. Others say the doors have been locked when they've tried to enter for help with résumés or obtaining their GEDs.

McMillan said the Urban League is adding space for child-friendly programming and perhaps even a dance studio and banquet hall- a pared-down version of the Ferguson Community Center that opened in the predominantly white part of town one month after Brown was killed.

Also to come along West Florissant Avenue: A Boys & Girls Club on the site of a long-shuttered Ponderosa Steakhouse, as well as a community health clinic, spearheaded by a group of nonprofits.

The other side of town, meanwhile, is slated to get a pediatric clinic, apartments for seniors, a jazz club and more restaurants.

"Everything that draws crowds and commerce is along South Florissant," said Phillips, the filmmaker, citing the weekend farmers market, the summer concerts and the 5K runs downtown, while southeast Ferguson is in "worse condition than it was "before Brown's death.

After nearly 13 years, Phillips recently decided to move out of Canfield Green and into a western suburb.

"I did my time," he said. "The point is not to stay in the hood. It's to get out."

Longtime business owners, though, say they cannot afford to give up.

Davis, president of the newly formed West Florissant Business Association, is trying to rebrand the neighborhood as "WestFlo." Or "Unity Plaza."

He said the association and city are weighing tax incentives for business development. "I need to remind them that this is Ferguson, too."

But, so far, he has not been able to shake the stigma.

Small-business revenue, including his own, is down by about 50 percent since 2014.

"We'll still have individuals that say, 'Do I want to go to Ferguson? Do I want to do business there? Who's even there any longer?' " Davis said. "After the riots, a lot of corporations kind of came in, triaging the area. But everyone is still holding their breath, waiting for a champion to come along."

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Video: A stretch of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo., saw protests and flames in 2014 after a police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Four years later, it remains a path of pain.(Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

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Testing the border in the age of Trump

By Kevin Sieff
Testing the border in the age of Trump
Miguel checks his laundry at the Casa del Migrante in Reynosa. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Alejandro Cartagena for The Washington Post.

REYNOSA, Mexico - They agreed to pay the smugglers $12,000 to get to Florida. It was a package deal - with three chances to cross the border.

The first attempt had ended a week earlier, in the headlights of a Border Patrol truck on a South Texas ranch. Now it was time for attempt No. 2.

"Are you ready, love?" he asked.

"I can't believe we have to try again," she said.

Socorro was 55. Miguel was 52. They fell in love while pruning flowers in a northern Florida plant nursery 15 years ago, two undocumented immigrants earning minimum wage. Last year, after Donald Trump became president, they returned to Mexico, fearing deportation and the seizure of their $20,000 in savings.

Then, after a year of unemployment in their home state of Guerrero, one of the most violent in Mexico, they got a Facebook message from their American boss. Their jobs were waiting for them, he wrote, if they could make it back to Florida.

More than a year after the inauguration of a president who promised to seal the U.S. border, something surprising is happening: The number of people entering illegally from Mexican territory has jumped. Figures for apprehensions, a widely used barometer for unauthorized traffic, nearly tripled from March through May compared with the same three months in 2017. The government has intensified its crackdown on border crossers - deploying the National Guard, expanding prosecutions, separating migrant parents from children - in an aggressive attempt to stop the influx.

There are a variety of reasons for the surge. But for many migrants crossing the border, like the couple bound for Florida, their attempts are based on close analyses of Trump's policies. The president who promised a wall, who pledged to make their lives in America impossible, has not managed to shut down the vast smuggling networks that funnel people across the border.

The smugglers have a marketing campaign: Pay a flat fee to cross the Rio Grande, and you get three chances.

They are chances to make it to specific places and specific jobs, the United States' economic growth spilling over into messages from employers to potential migrants, offering positions on farms and in factories - if they can make it past the Border Patrol.

"We see the same thing over and over. The bosses call their workers in Mexico and say, 'Come, come, come,' " Sister Maria Nidelvia Basulto said.

She runs the Casa del Migrante, a Roman Catholic shelter with high white walls plastered with posters of Jesus in the border city of Reynosa. That is where I interviewed Socorro and Miguel, who agreed to send me updates as they embarked on chance No. 2. They spoke on the condition that only their first names would be used because of concerns about being identified as immigrants crossing illegally.

The husband had broad shoulders, a square jaw, an orange cap pulled low over his forehead. The wife had short, dark hair and pink lipstick. At breakfast, they picked at each other's omelets and toast and held hands.

They had arrived here on a Saturday morning in mid-April and changed out of the dirty clothes they had been wearing when the Border Patrol caught them three days earlier. They showered and shaved and logged on to Facebook. They called their children back in southern Mexico. They looked up old text messages from their employer in Florida on their phone.

"Your W-2 is ready," one message said.

"Please come by the office when you're here," another said.

Then they called the smuggler. He confirmed: Two chances left.

- - -

The next morning, after the 7 o'clock prayer, Miguel was sitting at a plastic picnic table at the Casa del Migrante, sipping coffee served by a nun.

He knew what people on both sides of the border said about smugglers, that they were criminals, preying on the desperate. But they offered the best hope of getting into Texas, and then moving on to Florida. The Border Patrol catches between 55 and 85 percent of border crossers, by its own estimate.

"It's step by step," Miguel explained, moving his finger up the table, along an imaginary map of the United States.

For $3,000, the first smuggler would take the couple from a nearby safe house to the Rio Grande. For $4,000 more, the second smuggler would take them from the river to a safe house in McAllen, Texas. For another $3,000, the third smuggler would take them from McAllen to Houston. And for $2,000 on top of that, the fourth smuggler would take them from Houston to Florida.

In total, it was a $12,000 investment - equivalent to what they could earn in Florida in six months, at $9.60 per hour.

The smugglers had increased their fees sharply under Trump but offered multiple opportunities to cross. Socorro and Miguel had been swiftly deported on their first attempt, as was once common practice for Mexicans caught near the border.

Trump is hardly the first president to announce a border crackdown, only to find migrants changing their tactics. President Bill Clinton tightened controls at major crossing points in the mid-1990s; migrants scattered to more remote parts of the border. Under President George W. Bush, Congress approved 700 miles of border fencing; agents started finding ladders and tunnels along the barrier.

"It's harder to cross now, and that means it's also more expensive," Miguel said. "But we know it's still possible."

And despite Trump's policies, many American companies still welcome undocumented workers. The nursery business is among those most in need of labor.

"There's an absolute dearth of workers, the likes of which I've never seen in my career," said Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort, a lobbying firm that represents the horticulture industry in Washington.

Thanks to an improving economy, U.S. citizens who might have picked flowers or planted corn now have better options. Farm and nursery owners complain about the red tape and expense of work visa programs.

"You can't prevent people from coming if you're still giving them jobs," said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political-science professor at George Mason University and an expert on the border.

While Socorro and Miguel waited in their plastic chairs for the next call from the smuggler, the Casa del Migrante was full of commotion. More deportees had arrived from the Texas border, about two miles away, carrying U.S. government-issued plastic bags with their belongings. Other migrants were on their way north, toward the Rio Grande.

"I'm leaving. Good luck," said a woman heading to an old job at a fast-food restaurant in Mountain View, California.

"I'm getting ready," said a man with plans to resume his job at an auto factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Miguel and Socorro would spend another night or two in the single-sex dormitories here, using donated toothbrushes and bars of soap in zip-top bags, smiling at the nuns who hustled around the shelter.

"We never knew too much about their plans," Sister Edith Garrido would say after the couple had left.

But the nuns did glean bits and pieces about the way border-crossing attempts had evolved.

"They get three opportunities," said Sister Maria Nidelvia. "That's the way it works now."

- --

In the first year of Trump's presidency, the number of migrants trying to cross the southwest U.S. border hit a 40-year low, a statistic Trump broadcast as proof of his leadership.

"Numbers are way down. Many are not even trying to come in anymore," he tweeted in March 2017.

The Trump administration wagered that the border was something that could be closed. It was a question of having the right deterrents, the right messaging, the right enforcement.

Then came the surge.

In April, 50,924 people were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were Central American families and children traveling without parents, but the influx also included people like Socorro and Miguel. The figure was more than double the number of detentions in the same month a year earlier. The 2018 figure would not have been extraordinary under the Obama administration, and it marked a significant decline from the early 2000s.

But for Trump, the border was under siege. As the couple planned their second attempt, his administration boosted its efforts to counter migrants. The president announced the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops. He pledged to repel a caravan of asylum seekers traveling from Central America. And the administration was planning to separate parents from their children at the border, part of a new policy to prosecute all adults crossing illegally.

"Trump sent the army," Miguel said on Monday afternoon, two days after the couple arrived at the shelter. "The army!"

His wife had slept only two hours the night before. She texted weeping emoji to her daughter. "Andamos con miedo," she typed. "We're traveling scared."

Miguel's eyes got watery when he tried to comfort her.

The couple had paid the $3,000. They had told their fellow employees in Florida that they were on their way back. Their colleagues had stayed in touch during their year away. "I miss you and poppy," one co-worker had written on the wife's Facebook page. "Merry Christmas to a beautiful couple," wrote another.

On Tuesday morning, hours before the couple left to rejoin the smuggler, Sister Edith led the group of migrants in prayer.

Miguel and Socorro pretended to listen, but there was too much else to think about.

"The coyote told us to meet him this morning in Ciudad Camargo," Miguel told me after the service, referring to a town about 20 miles away.

He was growing increasingly worried as the appointment with the smuggler drew near.

"He said we'd go a different way this time, a place where there are fewer agents," Miguel said, sounding far from confident.

That April morning, in Washington, Trump had spoken at a news conference, returning again and again to the narrow river boundary the couple was preparing to cross.

"We are taking strong action to regain control over our borders and over our sovereignty," Trump said.

At the Casa del Migrante, some of the migrants were already convinced.

"I'll try under the next president," said a 34-year-old named Miguel who had lived in Minnesota and was recently deported.

He looked at the couple, a few feet away. "They're crazy to go now."

A white van arrived to take the couple to the bus station. From there, the bus to Ciudad Camargo cost about $1. I asked them to stay in touch, though I knew it could be weeks, or more, before I heard from them again.

But three hours later, Socorro logged on to Facebook and wrote me a message. They had reached the smuggler's safe house. The room was small but comfortable enough, she typed. The smuggler seemed like a decent guy.

"He gave us ham sandwiches," she wrote.

On two separate nights over the following week, the smuggler drove them to the Rio Grande with their rafts. Each time, before touching ground in Texas, they spotted the Border Patrol and paddled back.

"There's so, so much vigilance," Socorro wrote to me in a text on the WhatsApp messaging service.

I asked her whether they still had any of their three chances left. She said they did. Those quick attempts did not count.

When they crossed the river again in early May, the northern bank was clear of the Border Patrol. Their next smuggler was waiting near the river, with a car, Socorro later told me. The couple was driven north, up Route 77, which connects the border to the Houston area and the rest of East Texas. But somewhere south of the town of Sarita, where the Border Patrol maintains a checkpoint sometimes referred to as a "second border," the smuggler left them in the vast, empty ranchland, she said.

The couple wandered for three days in a stretch of South Texas so remote that dozens of migrants die there each year of dehydration, heatstroke or hypothermia.

Then Socorro pulled out her phone and began sending me a stream of texts and voice messages.

"We don't know where we are," she told me in a voice message on WhatsApp. She sounded disoriented.

And then a few minutes later: "Last night, we saw a town. It seemed close. We saw the lights."

I texted back, asking whether she had any food or water.

She responded: "We don't have any food."

I said she could send me her GPS coordinates if she wanted.

"Help us please," she said.

I knew how dangerous the conditions were in that area. But I texted back that I didn't know what I could do.

"It's 30 [kilometers] to the immigration control?" she asked.

I confirmed it was on the highway to the north, with a Border Patrol presence in the vicinity. As I typed, she sent two more voice messages.

"What are the options in the south then?" she asked.

"So there's not a way to get out of here without being detected?"

I was worried about her and Miguel. But I knew it would be wrong to offer them guidance. I didn't answer.

"How long does it take to get to Houston?" she asked.

Her voice was getting shaky.

"We've already walked so much, and we want to continue. We already spent $7,000, and we can't turn back."

I studied the map on my phone. They were about 250 miles from Houston. I told them it was too far to walk.

"I'm going to turn off my phone so the battery doesn't die," Socorro said. "I'm going to need it."

Then I heard nothing more.

- - -

Nine days later, Socorro's daughter, Rocio, called me.

"They're in jail," she said. "They were caught."

Socorro was booked into the federal government's Brooks County Detention Center as "an alien who had been previously deported." Miguel was taken to a different detention center.

Socorro was given an orange jumpsuit and assigned a lawyer, Lila Garza. "My first impression was that she was quiet and worried," Garza said.

A few days after her first court date, in late May, Socorro called me. I asked her what happened.

"The Border Patrol found us on Monday afternoon," she said.

Then she paused. "I can't. This call is being recorded."

- - -

The Trump administration intends to prosecute as many border crossers as possible, "until we get to 100 percent," Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May - a dramatic shift from past practice in which many were quickly deported without criminal charges.

Garza's firm of five lawyers received 800 cases of border crossers, including Socorro's, in just over a week.

"She's a person who would never have been charged in the past," Garza said, citing Socorro's lack of a criminal record.

Socorro pleaded guilty this month to illegal re-entry and was sentenced to time served. When she is released, she will be taken by bus to the border and escorted to Mexican territory. She could be back in the Casa del Migrante, or another shelter like it, within days.

I asked Socorro whether her time in detention would be enough to convince her not to try again.

On the phone, I could hear her sobbing.

"I went with all of my courage. I came with all of my faith that I could make it. But I couldn't get any further. I couldn't get any further."

I asked whether that meant she was done trying to cross the border.

There was a pause.

"I don't know," she said.

There was so much to figure out. What her husband wanted to do. Whether they could survive in Mexico. I asked whether that third chance still remained with the smuggler, and she said she wasn't sure.

"We still need jobs," she said. "I just don't know what to do."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Siege of port of Hodeida sparks hope for deal in Yemen

By david ignatius
Siege of port of Hodeida sparks hope for deal in Yemen

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU- In 3rd graf, 2nd sentence, changes to "intervened" (sted "invaded")

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- The brutal war in Yemen may be moving toward a tipping point following a controversial siege of the port of Hodeida by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A U.N. mediator and a top Emirati diplomat both expressed hope Thursday for a negotiated deal with Houthi rebels that could relieve pressure on the city. But they disagreed about details, and humanitarian groups warned that the assault is choking relief supplies for Yemen's tormented civilian population.

Yemen is caught in a proxy war between the Saudi-UAE coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, and Iran, which supports the Houthis. The Saudis and Emiratis intervened in 2015 after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa. But the war bogged down, with heavy civilian casualties. The Houthis alienated many Yemenis last year by killing their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he switched sides and backed the Saudis.

Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, said in a statement Thursday that he was "confident that we can reach an agreement to avert any escalation of violence in Hodeida." News reports said the Houthis might be willing to turn management of the port over to the U.N., easing the transport of food and other supplies.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, also expressed hope for a deal in a telephone interview Thursday night. But he said the plan the Houthis seem ready to accept -- for U.N. oversight of the port -- isn't sufficient, and that the UAE and its allies want complete withdrawal of Houthi fighters from the city.

"We feel that if the Houthis are out of Hodeida, they will be much more realistic," Gargash said. "The smart thing is to push hard on the perimeter, not enter the city, and say to the U.N., 'Go back and get a better deal.'"

Past mediation efforts have foundered on just such disagreements about terms. A truce that seemed near in Sanaa many months ago, for example, was scuttled by Saudi and UAE demands that the Houthis surrender their heavy weapons, which they refused to do. In Hodeida, the Houthis don't have much heavy weaponry, Gargash said.

The Hodeida battle has been one of the most important of the three-year war. UAE commanders moved this month to assault the port city, hoping to tip the balance of the protracted conflict. Last week, the UAE-led forces seized control of the airport just outside the city center, and then called on the Houthis to withdraw.

"We don't want to move further than the airport," Gargash said. While he wouldn't rule out an assault on the city center, he said: "It shouldn't be fighting in the streets or homes. We don't want that."

The Hodeida offensive has been condemned by humanitarian groups that said the attack would further impede relief efforts. The port is the main transit point for NGOs bringing food and other assistance into the battered nation of Yemen. Amnesty International warned in a new report this week that the siege had meant a "stranglehold" of the city.

"We feel that taking Hodeida will shorten the war," Gargash said, in explaining the rationale for the offensive. "We've broken the stalemate," by taking the airport, he argued. If the U.N. can reach a deal for evacuation of fighters from the city, he maintained, "it will lay the groundwork for a broader political solution" in other parts of Yemen.

Saudi officials, similarly, believe that their position has grown stronger in Yemen. Like the UAE officials, they keep insisting that if they maintain the squeeze, the Houthis will crack.

Perhaps Hodeida will produce the elusive negotiated deal. Meanwhile, the war grinds on and civilian suffering continues.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Your only Halley's

By charles krauthammer
Your only Halley's

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE AND PRINT RELEASE)

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By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

EDITORS -- The following Charles Krauthammer column was originally published on Dec. 13, 1985. It's the first of two pieces from his archives that we are resending, at no charge for publication. Krauthammer died Thursday, June 21, at age 68. Find additional memorial content at syndication.washingtonpost.com/nss/special.

A Lutheran minister once called comets the "thick smoke of human sins," a hypothesis that finds little support nowadays among scientists. They prefer to see comets as big dirty snowballs trailing tails of gas and enthralled by gravitation. And coming not from God but from the equally ineffable Oort cloud, a gigantic shell far beyond the solar system where aspiring comets spend eons of quiet desperation until disturbed by some celestial accident and called to race toward the sun and make men weep.

Except that men don't weep anymore. Halley's Comet may have brought victory to the Normans in 1066, heralded the descent of Turkish armies on Belgrade in 1456, and, in 1910, killed Mark Twain and then Edward VII. This time around all is forgiven. After all, it knows not what it does. And we know what it is: a forlorn mass of rock and ice, a few miles across, caught in endless revolution around our sun. Now an object, not an omen, it is the source not of panic but of curiosity. Five earthly spacecraft have been sent to greet it and snap its picture.

Science has thoroughly desacralized the universe. It is in the language. When in the last election Walter Mondale warned against militarizing "the heavens," the usage seemed quaint. After Neil Armstrong and George Lucas, what's up there now is simply "space." The heavens were a place for angels, gods and portentous messengers. Space is home to extraterrestrials, the Force and now snowballs cruising through emptiness.

Don't get me wrong. I am not pining for the days of the witch doctor. Things are much better now. There are costs to demystifying the universe and turning it over to science -- the ubiquity of Carl Sagan is among the heavier ones -- but the gain is great.

Halley's, like the rest of space, is friendly now, tamed. This will probably be the first time in history that Halley's will bring wonder unalloyed with fear. Halley's has turned into a celebration, a scientific romance.

The romance is in the return. Halley's comes back, always exactly on time. After its current pass, it will travel 3 billion miles away from Earth and then turn to revisit your children. It is the grandest reminder that an individual can behold of the constancy of nature. This, because of its cycle: it returns about every 75 years, once in a lifetime.

The sun rises regularly, too, but so often that we can't help being dulled to the wonder of its rhythm. And what rhythms, beyond that of the familiar year, really touch us? Sun spots come every 11 years, and what layman cares? Economists are forever coming up with "long waves" (50 years) and other putative business cycles. Even Freud's theory of neurosis was built on the notion of a distant return, the return of the child to the mind of the man. Such cycles can most charitably be called speculative.

Others are merely too long. The ice age will be back too. Fit that in your calendar. Halley's alone is made to human scale. Its span is precisely a lifetime. Birth and death are perhaps the only events that match Halley's periodicity. And neither is nearly as reliable. Birth and death come with regular irregularity (to borrow a term from cardiology). Halley's you can count on.

We know, for example, absolutely nothing about what the world will be like in 2061. Except one thing. In that unimaginable year, a year whose very number has an otherworldly look, Halley's will light up the sky.

One price of demystifying the universe is that science, unlike religion, asks only how, not why. As to the purpose of things, science is silent. But if science cannot talk about meaning, it can talk about harmony. And Halley's is at once a symbol and a proof of a deep harmony of the spheres.

The great author of that harmony was Newton. And one of the earliest empirical demonstrations of his gravitational theories was provided by his friend, Edmond Halley. Twenty-three years after the great comet of 1682, Halley deciphered its logic. He predicted its return in 1758. Halley died 17 years before he could be proved right. The return of the comet was a sensation. It made Halley immortal. True to its nature, science wed the comet forever to the man who did not discover it, but was the first to understand it.

This time around, there will be no sensation. Halley's will give one of the worst shows ever. This may be its dimmest apparition in more than 2,000 years. What we will celebrate, then, is not the spectacle, but the idea.

Halley's is a monument to science, a spokesman for its new celestial harmonies -- and an intimation of mortality. It is at once recurring and, for us individually, singular. This will be my only Halley's and, if you're old enough to read this without moving your lips, your last one too, I'm afraid.

Halley's speaks to me especially acutely. As it turns around the sun, the midpoint on its journey, I will be marking the midpoint in mine, or so say the Metropolitan Life tables. Our perihelions match. Mark Twain was rather pleased with the fact that he came in with Halley's and would go out with it. Ashes to ashes, Oort to Oort. Hail Halley's.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

The central axiom of partisan politics

By charles krauthammer
The central axiom of partisan politics

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Krauthammer clients only)

By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

EDITORS -- The following Charles Krauthammer column was originally published on July 26, 2002. It's the second of two pieces from his archives that we are resending, at no charge for publication. Krauthammer died Thursday, June 21, at age 68. Find additional memorial content at syndication.washingtonpost.com/nss/special.

To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

For the first side of this equation, I need no sources. As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about -- Bosnia, John McCain, precisely how many orphans we're prepared to throw into the snow so the rich can have their tax cuts -- we all agree that liberals are stupid.

We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe -- here is where they go stupid -- that most everybody else is nice too. Deep down, that is. Sure, you've got your multiple felon and your occasional war criminal, but they're undoubtedly depraved 'cause they're deprived. If only we could get social conditions right -- eliminate poverty, teach anger management, restore the ozone, arrest John Ashcroft -- everyone would be holding hands smiley-faced, rocking back and forth to "We Shall Overcome."

Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything.

Liberals suffer incurably from naivete, the stupidity of the good heart. Who else but that oracle of American liberalism, The New York Times, could run the puzzled headline: "Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling." But? How about this wild theory: If you lock up the criminals, crime declines.

Accordingly, the conservative attitude toward liberals is one of compassionate condescension. Liberals are not quite as reciprocally charitable. It is natural. They think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do -- self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power -- without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? The argument that it would increase self-reliance and thus ultimately reduce poverty is dismissed as meanness rationalized -- or as Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., put it more colorfully in a recent House debate on welfare reform, "a cold-blooded grab for another pound of flesh from the demonized welfare mothers."

Liberals, who have no head (see above), believe that conservatives have no heart. When Republicans unexpectedly took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, conventional wisdom immediately attributed this disturbance in the balance of the cosmos to the vote of the "angry white male" (an invention unsupported by the three polls that actually asked about anger and found three-quarters of white males not angry.)

The "angry white male" was thus a legend, but a necessary one. It was unimaginable that conservatives could be given power by any sentiment less base than anger, the selfish fury of the former top dog -- the white male -- forced to accommodate the aspirations of women, minorities and sundry upstarts.

The legend lives. Years ago it was Newt Gingrich as the Grinch who stole Christmas. Today, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman declares the Bush administration the moral equivalent of Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's far right, xenophobic, anti-Semitic heir to European fascism. Both apparently represent the "angry right." But in America, writes Krugman, it is worse: "Here the angry people are already running the country."

This article of liberal faith -- that conservatism is not just wrong but angry, mean and, well, bad -- produces one paradox after another. Thus the online magazine Slate devoted an article to attempting to explain the "two faces" of Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. The puzzle is how a conservative could have such a "winning cocktail-party personality and talk-show cordiality." Gigot, it turns out, is "Janus-faced": regular guy -- "plays basketball with working reporters" -- yet conservative! "By day he wrote acid editorials ... by night he polished his civilized banter [on TV]."

A classic of the genre -- liberal amazement when it finds conservatism coexisting with human decency in whatever form -- is the New York Times news story speaking with unintended candor about bioethicist Leon Kass: "Critics of Dr. Kass' views call him a neoconservative thinker. ... But critics and admirers alike describe him as thoughtful and dignified."

But? Neoconservative but thoughtful and dignified. A sighting: rare, oxymoronic, newsworthy.

The venerable David Halberstam, writing in praise of the recently departed Ted Williams, offered yet another sighting: "He was politically conservative but in his core the most democratic of men." Amazing.

The most troubling paradox of all, of course, is George W. Bush. Compassionate, yet conservative? Reporters were fooled during the campaign. "Because Bush seemed personally pleasant," explained Slate, "[they] assumed his politics lay near the political center."

What else could one assume? Pleasant and conservative? Ah, yes, Grampa told of seeing one such in the Everglades. But that was 1926.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

If Melania really doesn't care, then who does?

By ruth marcus
If Melania really doesn't care, then who does?

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. (This replaces the column that would usually be for release Sunday, June 24.))

(For Marcus clients only)

By RUTH MARCUS

"I Really Don't Care. Do U?" So First Lady Melania Trump advertised, in large letters on the back of a jacket made superfluous by the muggy summer weather, as she traveled to and from visiting migrant children at a Texas shelter.

It was impossible to divine with certainty what Trump was trying to communicate, except to know that the huffy official response -- "There was no hidden message," her communications director insisted -- was obviously untrue, unless in the sense that the message was not hidden at all, but emblazoned on the back of the jacket.

When you leave the house, you may grab whatever ratty sweatshirt is at hand. Not Melania Trump, former fashion model. The last news-making jacket that she wore was a $51,000 floral applique number from Dolce & Gabbana. Did the first lady have this one, off the rack from Zara for $39, stashed in her closet, awaiting the perfect moment?

In any event, the #ItsJustAJacket claim, and the accompanying lecture to the media to "spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids -- rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe -- was, as things tend to be in Trumpworld, quickly contradicted by the president, who advised that the nonexistent message was actually a middle finger to "the Fake News Media." The first lady, he said, "has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!"

Yeah, right. It was a message to the traveling press -- just one that required two tries and presidential interpretation to deliver.

But the more interesting, and more answerable question, may be why Melania Trump's self-proclaimed insouciance felt so unnerving. I think it has to do with our national craving for a sense that someone, anyone, in this depraved administration retains some moral compass and basic human decency. If not Melania, then who? If not now, when?

Donald Trump is unsuited for many aspects of the presidency, none so much as the president's role as healer-in-chief. We are suffering from the national trauma of hearing the cries of children separated from their parents, possibly permanently. But this president cannot alleviate that trauma; he is the one who chose to inflict it.

Consider the reputational and political damage that accrued to George W. Bush with his incompetent and seemingly unfeeling -- recall the famous airplane flyby -- response to Hurricane Katrina. But Katrina was an act of God. The crying children are an act of Trump.

And so this administration must outsource its compassion. To some extent, this is convenient for the president, too. Trump does tough, and leaves the soft stuff to the women around him. Hence his eagerness to announce, as he backtracked from his lock-'em-up approach, that Melania Trump -- "My wife feels very strongly about it" -- and his daughter Ivanka had implored him to do so.

"The dilemma is that if you're weak ... if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people," Trump said Wednesday. "And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. ... Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma."

He would rather be strong -- the Trump presidency in a nutshell.

Which leaves us with Melania Trump. Is it possible that she meant to say that she didn't give a hoot about the children? But she didn't seem like someone who was being dispatched to Texas under duress -- more like someone who was signaling, as best she could, that she did not back this immoral program.

Convict Melania Trump of selfish complicity, maybe -- certainly of a relentless failure of self-awareness with her #bebest insistence that she cares about combating cyber-bullying. Say that she issued a pre-reversal statement notable for its mealy mouthed evenhandedness.

Still, that was more than Certain Others could choke out (Ivanka Trump, that means you, as my colleague Karen Tumulty noted.) And a sitting First Lady was never going to go full Laura Bush, comparing her husband's policies with the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Perhaps this is too kind to Melania Trump, and it is more accurate to understand her as calculating collaborator than prisoner in a gilt-encrusted cage. Yet one of the astonishing aspects of the family separation debacle has been that no administration official -- not a single one -- had enough of a moral compass to quit in protest.

And so we are reduced to grasping at the crumbs of compassion tossed by Melania Trump. If she really doesn't care, no one in this benighted administration does. Which may well be true but does not make it any less tragic.

Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The real hoax about the border crisis

By catherine rampell
The real hoax about the border crisis

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

It's all a hoax. A great big hoax.

Not the family separations, the babies alone in cages, the drugged immigrant children, the stolen toddlers too traumatized to speak, the wailing children whom Ann Coulter slanders as "child actors."

Sadly, those cruelties are all too real.

The hoax is the premise that President Trump's administration has invented to rationalize such crimes against humanity: his narrative that America has been "infest[ed]" with hordes of crime-committing, culture-diluting, job-stealing, tax-shirking, benefits-draining "aliens."

No part of that description is remotely true. Yet the Trump administration seems to have successfully shifted the national dialogue away from "(BEG ITAL)Do(END ITAL) we have a border immigration problem?" to "What's the right way to (BEG ITAL)fix(END ITAL) our border immigration problem?"

Truly, it's bizarre. Unauthorized border crossings have been falling over time. In fact, apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants along the Southwest border last fiscal year declined to about 300,000, the lowest level since 1971, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They've risen in recent months, though year-to-date they're still below historical levels.

Let's say you believe, though, that even those numbers are too high, because of the calamities these immigrants have been inflicting upon America's public safety, culture and economy.

Trump, after all, suggests that even one border-crosser is too many, since most come bringing crime, drugs and general bloodthirst.

In fact, immigrants in general, and undocumented immigrants in particular, commit crimes at far lower rates than native-born Americans. That includes violent crime, according to research from the Cato Institute. Another recent study, published in the journal Criminology, found that states with larger shares of undocumented immigrants tended to have (BEG ITAL)lower(END ITAL) crime rates. The finding jibes with lots of earlier research, too.

Which makes sense: Most immigrants want to stay off law enforcement's radar. One wrong move, after all, could get them deported -- in some cases, to their death.

So let's consider the (BEG ITAL)other(END ITAL) claims that Trump makes about our supposed alien infestation, such as foreigners' alleged assault on our culture and values.

The gothic horrors of a "taco truck on every corner" notwithstanding, recent waves of immigrants have actually proved themselves reasonably adept at assimilating into American culture. Particularly those given the opportunity to escape the shadows.

"Immigrants are now more assimilated, on average, than at any point since the 1980s," according to a 2013 study by Jacob L. Vigdor for the Manhattan Institute, using metrics such as English-language ability and intermarriage rates.

But maybe you say immigrants' real damage is economic, as those not-at-all-bigoted "economic nationalists" claim. Immigrants are stealing our jobs, our benefits and shortchanging Uncle Sam!

This is a curious claim to make in a labor market with 3.8 percent unemployment. Nonetheless, let's consider what the research says about the longer-term relationship between immigration levels and job market health.

There's reason to believe that new immigrants may depress wages for earlier waves of immigrants who have similar skill sets. However, recent studies suggest that immigration (both authorized and unauthorized) actually boosts labor force participation rates, productivity and wages and reduces unemployment rates for native-born American workers, whose skills these immigrants tend to complement.

But don't these people drain the public coffers?

Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, pay taxes -- taxes that fund government benefits that in many cases they are not legally eligible to collect.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that the net fiscal impact of first-generation immigrants, compared to otherwise similar natives, is positive at the federal level and negative at the state and local levels. That's due mostly to the costs of educating their children. When their children grow up, though, they are "among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population." In other words, by the second generation, immigrants are net-positive for government budgets at all levels.

What about the most destitute immigrants who come here, though? Surely they're sucking the government dry!

Nope.

An internal government report (BEG ITAL)commissioned by Trump(END ITAL) found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in tax revenue over the past decade than they cost the government. Finding those results inconvenient, the administration suppressed them, though they were ultimately leaked to The New York Times last year.

It's hard to comprehend how Trump has so successfully hijacked the national conversation around immigration. With virtually no facts on his side, he has managed to fabricate a multipart border emergency, and convince a majority of his own party that this imagined emergency necessitates state-sanctioned child abuse. Sadly, Trump's manufactured crisis has now led to very real tragedy.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Charles Krauthammer, a diagnostician of our public discontents

By george f. will
Charles Krauthammer, a diagnostician of our public discontents

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

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By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON -- When he was asked how to become a columnist, Charles Krauthammer would say, with characteristic drollery, "First, you go to medical school." He did, with psychiatry as his specialty because, he said with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy. But he also came to the columnist craft by accident. Because of one.

It has been said that if we had to think about tying our shoes or combing our hair we would never get out of the house in the morning. Life is mostly habitual -- do you actually remember any details of driving home last evening? The more of life's functions that are routinely performed without thinking, the more thinking we can do. That, however, is not how life was for Charles after his accident.

In 1972, when he was a 22-year-old student at Harvard Medical School, he was swimming in a pool. Someone pushed the diving board out, extending over a shallower part of the pool. Charles, not realizing this, dove and broke his neck. At the bottom of the pool, "I knew exactly what happened. I knew why I wasn't able to move, and I knew what that meant." It meant that life was going to be different than he and Robyn had anticipated when they met at Oxford.

He left two books at the pool. One was a text on the spinal cord. The other was Andre Malraux's novel "Man's Fate."

Paralyzed from the neck down, he completed medical school, did an internship and, one thing leading to another, as life has a way of doing, became not a jewel in the crown of the medical profession, which he would have been, but one of America's foremost public intellectuals. Nothing against doctors, but the nation needed Charles more as a diagnostician of our public discontents.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Charles wrote speeches for the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, who did not realize -- neither did Charles -- that the campaign harbored a thinker who soon would be a leading light of contemporary conservatism. Dictating columns when not driving himself around Washington in a specially designed van that he operated while seated in his motorized wheelchair, crisscrossing the country to deliver speeches to enthralled audiences, Charles drew on reserves of energy and willpower to overcome a multitude of daily challenges, any one of which would cause most people to curl up in a fetal position. Fortunately, with more brain cells to spare than the rest us have to use, he could think about doing what was no longer habitual, and about national matters, too.

Charles died at 68, as did, 19 years ago, Meg Greenfield, the editor of The Washington Post's editorial page. For many years, Meg, Charles and this columnist met for Saturday lunches with a guest -- usually someone then newsworthy; now completely forgotten -- at a Washington greasy spoon whose name, the Chevy Chase Lounge, was grander than the place. Like Meg, Charles was one of those vanishingly rare Washingtonians who could be both likable and logical. This is not easy in a town where the local industry, politics -- unlike, say, engineering; get things wrong and the bridges buckle -- thrives on unrefuted errors.

Medicine made Charles intimate with finitude -- the skull beneath the skin of life; the fact that expiration is written into the lease we have on our bodies. And his accident gave him a capacity for sympathy, as Rick Ankiel knows.

Ankiel was a can't-miss, Cooperstown-bound pitching phenomenon for the St. Louis Cardinals -- until, suddenly and inexplicably, he could not find the plate. Starting the opening game of a playoff series at age 21, the prodigy threw five wild pitches and his career rapidly spiraled far down to ... resurrection as a 28-year-old major league outfielder, for a short but satisfying stint in defiance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in a life. As Charles wrote, Ankiel's saga illustrated "the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether -- and how -- we ever come back."

The health problems that would end Charles' life removed him from the national conversation nine months ago, so his legion of admirers already know that he validated this axiom: Some people are such a large presence while living that they still occupy space even when they are gone.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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