Whenever the populist advisers in the White House get their way on immigration policy, the result is chaos, disorder, hysteria, outrage, diminished popularity for the president, and an intensification of resistance to their policy aims. The furor over family separation at the border was foreshadowed by the earlier controversy over the travel ban.
First, let’s quickly concede that the populists are right about certain things. Yes, it is true that policy and enforcement decisions taken by previous administrations encouraged those who wanted to enter the United States illegally to bring their children. Yes, it is true that patterns of enforcement very quickly become common knowledge among potential migrants, who then respond accordingly. A number of the advocates of family separation within the administration have said that the idea is to “send a message” discouraging parents from bringing their kids on the often perilous and dangerous journey. And indeed, there are incredible moral hazards that are created by policies that encourage illegal immigration (e.g., the way human trafficking has flourished in Mexico for decades and in Libya in recent years).
All true. And all beside the point. The Trump administration could have worked with Congress ahead of time to make it possible to prosecute all illegal entry into the United States without separating children from their parents. It didn’t. It preferred to proceed with separations that were bound to be seen for what they are: immoral and needless. And for what? To create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in which to get concessions from Democrats? So far, no such concessions seem forthcoming.
For some advocates of the policy, the horror is part of the point, meant to discourage migration before it is attempted. And the expected political payoff is in getting Democrats to rhetorically commit themselves to even more unpopular positions on immigration, even as President Trump avers that he wants to see the family separations he authorized ended.
This is political malpractice. One of the fears that accompanied the election of Donald Trump, one of the fears that even many of his supporters harbored, was that Trump’s inexperience would cause chaos to flourish. With the travel ban and the family-separation policy, the White House has knowingly sowed chaos.
Predictably, all of this has encouraged a certain moral callousness in the president’s staunchest loyalists. Thus the nauseating spectacle of Corey Lewandowski responding with a churlish “womp womp” to someone describing the separation of a child with Down Syndrome from her family at the border.
There is no upside here. Democrats are acting as if there is no political pressure on them to accept Republican solutions to what they see as a problem created by Republicans. All they have to do is wait until the GOP offers even larger amnesties than those already on the table.
Immigration should be a winning issue for a restrictionist White House. Most Americans support enforcing immigration laws. They dislike the policies that have created a huge population of illegal immigrants in America, not only because they dislike lawlessness, but because it is so radically unfair to those who wish to join the United States legally. The White House could have picked a fight on any number of politically winning immigration-related issues. Instead, it chose to start separating families at the border, and roughly two-thirds of Americans are against it.
In an atmosphere in which “open borders” are becoming the dream that many progressives promote, a Republican president has associated the idea of immigration enforcement itself with the moral enormity of separating vulnerable children from their parents. It’s a shame.
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