“You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word. Use that word!”
— Donald J. Trump at a political rally in Houston, 22 October 2018
And there we have it.
The President of the United States is proudly using a word that is full of historic negative connotations. Mr. Trump stated yesterday in response to a reporter’s question that he didn’t know why people were upset with his use of the word and implied that it meant the same as “patriotism.” It is not the same, and anyone with any sense of history knows that. While the president is famously ill-informed, and proud of it, I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying. His own words tell us that: “we’re not supposed to use that word.”
Nationalism: Loyalty and devotion to a nation. Especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Note the difference, and it’s a big one. One espouses devotion to a nation, one to a country. While we say that we “are one nation under God” we are really a country, not a nation in the sense that it is used in these definitions. In this sense a nation is a group of people with a common language, ethnicity, and an outlook that manifests in a common culture. In other words, it is exclusive of those that do not share the same traits.
Nationalism is a relatively recent development in history, coming into wide-spread usage starting in the 1800s and resulting in the founding of nation-states in place of empires or kingdoms that had dominated previously. The idea came of age in the 20th century and was one of the key causes leading to World War I and World War II. In truth, nationalism can be a positive force, such as in the end of colonialism and the emergence of many new countries from nations across Africa, Latin America and Asia, or it can be a negative force such as the rallying cry of fascist dictators and others. Vladimir Putin is using Russian nationalism to consolidate his power and as an excuse for the annexation of Crimea and for threats against the Baltic States, especially Estonia which has a high percentage of ethnic Russians in its population.
E Pluribus Unum. “Out of many, one.” Our country’s motto reflects the fact that our country is made of people from around the world, from many nations, that have come together to form a “more perfect union.” We put aside our devotion to the nation of origin and pledge our allegiance to a new country. This is what made, and keeps, America great and is significantly different from what it means to be French, or Spanish, or Chinese.
The history of nationalism in this country is sordid. Historically it means a belief in a country dominated by white Christian males and is most closely associated with white nationalism. The march in Charlottesville Virginia last year was a white nationalist rally which included overt neo-Nazi groups. Mr. Trump opined that there were “good people on both sides” thus validating the cause of those groups, at least in their eyes. Nationalism means that one promotes one’s own culture and values ahead of those of others. Nationalists do so not just because they believe in them but because they believe that their culture and values are inherently better than those of any other one’s or any other nation’s culture and values. Thus, it means that in the context of the Charlottesville rally, for example, that white interests should supersede those of any other group in the U.S.
In the 1930’s the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party used nationalism to legally rise to power in a republican Germany. The rallying cry was that German culture and ethnicity was superior to any other nation’s and therefore Germans should dominate the world.
In the U.S., mainstream politicians and citizens celebrate our diversity. We have a history of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, cultures and customs coming together in a common cause. It is what makes for American Exceptionalism which is, well, exceptional because we are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world that not only believes in our diversity, but celebrates it.
Mr. Trump claimed yesterday in response to a question about white nationalism during a press availability in the Oval Office, as to whether he intended his remarks to encourage white nationalists. He responded incredulously to the question and said “no, I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.”
Where are the patriots? Who is standing up and saying, “no, Mr. President, we are not nationalists, we are patriots.” We do not celebrate the demonization of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Patriots celebrate our country and are proud of the fact that from our various backgrounds we come together in common purposes. We are a beacon to the world. Extinguishing that beacon through a misguided belief that we are somehow being “screwed” by “others” will not improve the life of any American. Should we follow the path that Mr. Trump espouses we lose the essence of what has served us so well for so long. Anger and fear are the basic ingredients of a “nationalist” ideology. We are better than that.
Do not let Mr. Trump’s signing of an Executive Order on the spur of the moment on Wednesday lead you to believe that the problem of immigrant children being separated from their parents is solved. It is not. The soul of America continues to be at stake.
First, most legal scholars opine that an Executive Order was not necessary. No laws changed and no policy changed except that immigrant families would not automatically be separated. That could have been accomplished merely by a telephone call to the Secretary of Homeland Defense. The Order and signing ceremony was for show.
Second, the Order did not “fix” anything. There is a continuing Trump Administration created crisis on the border. As I stated in this space earlier this week, the crisis was created in order to force Congress to build Mr. Trump’s wall and as a hoped for deterrent to future immigrants. It back fired.
Third, a careful reading of the Order (found here) reveals that mostly all that changed is that now families will be detained together. The ramifications of that are complicated, as I will try to explain in a moment. It also gets the military involved in that it directs the Secretary of Defense “to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.” One more mission for the military, which should not be in the business of taking care of immigrants, and by law (Posse Comitatus) cannot enforce the law.
(As an aside and a clue to how haphazard this process is in the White House, the title of the Order was “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Seperation.” Apparently no one owns spell checker in this Administration.)
Fourth, Mr. Trump continues to blame “the Democrats” for the state of affairs. Huh? The Republican party controls the White House, both Houses of Congress, and arguably, the Supreme Court. Yesterday, an immigration bill in the House of Representatives, that needed only Republican votes to pass, went down to defeat. A second bill addressing immigration was to be voted on yesterday but it has been deferred to next week — if it comes to a vote at all — because there were not enough Republican votes for it to pass.
The real heart of the matter however is this, roughly 2300 children are in the United States after being removed from their parents’ custody over the last six weeks and no one can confidently say that they know where they all are.
Republican and Democrat politicians, from Senators to Representatives to Governors to Mayors have tried to visit some of the known locations where the children are held in detention and they have not been allowed in. It is no surprise that the media has not been allowed to independently verify the condition of the facilities and the children. Our elected representatives are told by the federal government that they must put in a request to make any visits and that it will take about two weeks to process their applications to visit. A lot of cover up can take place in two weeks. What happened to oversight by our elected officials?
Where are the children?
As I write, they were moved to detention centers in fifteen states, in many cases thousands of miles from where the parents are held, including in my home county. One child in custody in our county is 18 months old. Others are not much older. Not understood by many people is that each of these children, with or without their parents, can be deported or ask for asylum. How does an 18 month old or even a six-year-old go find an attorney and go to court to ask for asylum?
Earlier the Trump Administration tried to use the young people here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA — or more familiarly the “Dreamers”) as a bargaining chip for the wall. The courts short-circuited that attempt. Then he tried using innocent children as a bargaining chip to get the wall. That was stopped — for now — by American citizens expressing their uneasiness with such an inhumane action. The next bargaining chip will be entire immigrant families held in detention camps.
If you have been paying close attention to this issue, you know that Mr. Trump made it very clear that his “zero tolerance” policy remains in effect. This creates a dilemma as most “family friendly” detention centers are full. That is why Mr. Trump included the Secretary of Defense in the Order. News reports indicate that the Defense Department was directed to provide tent cities on military bases in Texas and Arkansas to house 20,000 immigrants as families. This number seems to come from the estimate that should the separation policy have continued, by December of this year there would be about 19,000 children in custody and separated from their families.
The United States already lost its moral authority in the world. When pictures of vast tent cities holding families inside barbed wire fences on military bases, watched by armed guards, looking every bit like the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II, we will be shown to have lost our soul.
A complicating factor is that under a judicial ruling, children can only be held in detention for about twenty days, which is why they are moved to places such as “tender age shelters“. There is no clear path for this administration to deal with that requirement while maintaining their zero tolerance policy. In the Order, the president directs the Attorney General to go to court to modify the judge’s ruling (you may have heard of it called the “Flores Settlement”) “in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”
Since a “pendency” (settlement of a court case) can go for months and sometimes years when asking for asylum, we will have families being raised in captivity.
It gets worse.
There is a good chance that a fair number of the 2300 children already separated from their parents may never be reunited with them. Government officials, and loudly echoed by aid workers and attorneys trying to help these immigrants, concede that there is no clear process in place for matching parents and children after they are separated. Glaringly absent from the Order was any process to bring the various elements of the government together to try to figure out how to fix this problem. Not a word. Record keeping is a problem, language barriers are a problem, money is a problem. Immigrants arriving with only the clothes on their back don’t have the money to hire an attorney to unravel the bureaucracy or to go get their child who may be thousands of miles away, much less the same requirements for the children themselves to find their parents. The system is very haphazard. In my area alone, 300 of the children have been identified in various locations, and legal aids say that so far they have been able to find the parents of two of them.
The Trump Administration was either grossly unprepared for the practical aspects of their policy, or they just plain did not care. “(If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.)
Immigration is a difficult subject. It is complicated. Sometimes there are no good answers to intractable problems. There may even be more than one right answer to the issue. What we now know is that this Administration seems to pick the wrong answer and then make it worse.
Do not be fooled. This problem was not “fixed” by the president. It is just the beginning.
“I thought I would take a little digression here to discuss some concerns raised by our church friends about separation of families… I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”
–Attorney General Jeff Sessions on why our country is adopting a new “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that includes separating all children — no matter their age — from their parents after crossing the border.
“This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made. Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century — and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity — it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.”
–Professor of American History John Fea.
I’m just sayin’….
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
— The sonnet “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.
— Senior White House Adviser Stephen Miller in response to a question about new immigration proposals as compared to the sentiment from the sonnet.
Happy New Year! I hope that 2018 brings us all health, prosperity and happiness. Hopefully, you had a joyful holiday season.
I was fortunate to participate in several social gatherings during the last few weeks and to spend eleven days traveling in the great state of California. The gatherings and travel afforded an opportunity to forget about politics for a while and yet at the same time to get a snapshot from friends, acquaintances, and family as to their views on the state of politics in our great country. The comments were wide-ranging.
Among other things, I was asked why I write an “anti-Trump” blog. “We get it. You don’t like him. Move on.” Others asked why I don’t write about him more often. Some are thrilled with the current president, or at least his policies. Others despair over the future of our nation. Many said that they had stopped following the news because it was just too upsetting. Others advised that they just ignore what the president says, and especially tweets, and are much happier for doing so. It set me to wondering.
I must admit that I was happier without hearing “all Trump all the time”. I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to stop worrying about him and what he is doing to the office of the president and to our country. I reflected on this course of action at length. It certainly would be easier.
In the end I find it impossible for me to ignore what is going on with the president and I worry that too many people are choosing to tune him out. This is dangerous. If citizens do not pay attention to what our government is doing, then the politicians are free to do whatever they want. If we do not understand the issues and their implications then we are doomed to living out the results of decisions that change our way of life. In reflecting on the current state of affairs I asked myself how the president’s actions are impacting me, personally, and my day-to-day life. In truth, I had to answer very little if at all. So why get upset? The answer is easy and not a shoulder wrenching pat on my own back — if no one pays attention then eventually it will impact my life and that of my family but it will be too late to do anything to change it. More importantly, I realized that many people around me are being impacted right now. Today. And it is life changing for them. As Americans, we do care.
This brings me to a representative example of what I see as very disturbing trends under this president. That is his views on immigration. It is what I used to tell my staff in my sea-going days:
“Know the difference between what things are and what they mean.”
In that context let’s look at Mr. Trump’s comments made last week regarding immigrants from non-white countries.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. In the end, it is not important that the president used vulgar language in expressing his disparaging view of immigrants. Whether it was “hole” or “house” is hardly relevant. If Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga) want to lose their integrity over the changing stories and provable lies in their interpretation of the suffix to the president’s vulgarity they will have to face themselves in the mirror. The actual words don’t matter as much as the sentiment does. Mr. Trump is not the first president to swear in the Oval Office and he won’t be the last. It is embarrassing to the nation and unbecoming of the office, but in the end it isn’t the most important thing. It is what it is.
What it means is something else. Mr. Trump’s temper tantrum in response to a bi-partisan plan proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) set in motion a string of events that will have both long and short-term impact.
Only days before the blow up the president said that he “would sign anything” that the Congress brought forward on solving the Trump created crisis concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers”. If not resolved very soon, the Administration could cause roughly 800,000 law-abiding hard-working people to be deported from the only country they have ever really known. Whether or not the Graham-Durbin bill was the final answer, it did have bi-partisan support and gave the president much — but not all — of what he wanted regarding increased border security, changes to immigration quotas and other immigration procedures. If nothing else, it was a starting point. Only two hours before the Oval Office meeting, the president tentatively agreed to the outlines of the bill when it was explained to him over the phone. Unfortunately, hard liners like Stephen Miller — quoted above — were afraid that the president would agree to the deal and thus called in Senators Cotton and Perdue to talk him out of it. They succeeded.
What is the fallout? In the short-term it significantly increases the likelihood of a government shutdown at midnight on Friday 19 January. Democrats have been under intense pressure to “solve” the DACA dilemma quickly. Their best leverage is to use a spending bill to do so because the Republicans cannot get enough of their members to pass it on their own. There is still a lot of negotiating underway as to how to keep the government running, but membership on both sides of the aisle is tired of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CR) which are in and of themselves detrimental to an efficient government. It could get ugly and there will be lots of finger pointing. The rest of us suffer.
Longer term the president has exhibited — again! — that he does not understand what makes America the country that it is. As has been written often, and more eloquently than I can, we are a nation of immigrants. Most of them poor and from nations that in their day were not any more appreciated than those that the president now disparages. For example, look at the history of Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Look to many of our own family histories. These were not lawyers, doctors, bankers or other wealthy immigrants. Most could not read or write their own language, much less English. But they worked hard. They assimilated over time. They produced generations of lawyers, doctors and bankers. Many became wealthy and contributed to the development of industries we now tout as “all American.” Mr. Trump clearly does not know this. Probably he does not care. Mostly, it does not interest or impact him so he pays little attention other than to what he thinks will appeal to the “base” that seems to be the only America he is interested in leading.
Longer term he has changed the way that the rest of the world looks at these United States. Lady Liberty’s torch no longer seems to be a beacon to those “yearning to breathe free” but rather a torch searching out those not like us. Mr. Trump revealed — again!– who he really is. For goodness sakes, our closest ally is the United Kingdom and they don’t want him to visit. The UK is very divided politically right now, but all parties agree that Mr. Trump can stay home.
Longer term Mr. Trump’s actions hinder and impede our national security. When allies question their level of cooperation with our own intelligence agencies because of his actions, we suffer. When nations that are friendly to us send official diplomatic requests for an explanation of the president’s remarks we may find that they won’t stand with us when needed. When we have military forces under fire in Africa and in other nations (remember we lost four good soldiers fighting terrorism in Niger) will they be reliable in the common defense if they think the commander-in-chief declares them unworthy to come to our country?
Everyday the list gets longer as we count the attacks on our nation as an idea and an ideal. I do not think that Mr. Trump understands that. By his words and actions he is steadily destroying what we stand for in the world and at home. I am surprised at the number of folks that told me that they don’t care for Mr. Trump that much as a person but that they like what he is doing. I have to assume that they mean they like the tax cuts and Supreme Court appointment and not his actions infringing on the First Amendment, claiming that the FBI actively worked against his campaign, his besmirching the judiciary whenever they rule against him, and the countless list of daily insults that spew forth and inexorably demean our nation and undermine our way of life.
His views on immigration are only one example of how he is changing our nation. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on the path forward in many areas of policy. What concerns me more than Mr. Trump’s policies is the steady erosion of our American ideals.
So, yes. It would be easier to just ignore it all and go on with my daily life. But we all need in our own ways to have our voices heard and let it be known that it is not okay. I am not anti-Trump in my writings. I am pro-America and what we stand for. A president that wants to be president to only 33% of the country needs to come to understand that he represents all Americans. Those of Haitian ancestry as well as those of Norwegian ancestry.
Who cares? We care.
Yesterday the Trump Administration put a six month limit on the continued use of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that was in effect for roughly the last five years. This is the order that allowed undocumented immigrants brought here as children, with no say in the matter, to stay in the United States as long as they met certain criteria. You may know the recipients of this policy as Dreamers, which came from the Congressional DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) which is legislation proposed in Congress in various forms since 2001 with chances of passage in either the House or the Senate, but never both at the same time. After the last failure, President Obama in 2012 put the DACA into practice. The criteria for being designated as a Dreamer are as follows, although under the policy, meeting these criteria does not automatically qualify the applicant as a Dreamer. They had to:
- Come to the United States before their 16th birthday
- Live continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
- Be under age 31 on June 15, 2012 (i.e., born on June 16, 1981 or after)
- Be physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with US Custom and Immigration Service
- Have no lawful status on June 15, 2012
- Have completed high school or have a certified GED or have an honorable discharge from the Armed Forces or be enrolled in school
- Have no convictions of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors, and not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
It is estimated that there are approximately 800,000 registered Dreamers in the United States.
“Registered” could be a problem because they were promised no retribution if they came in out of the shadows and became useful members of society. How many are now waiting for the knock on the door that they thought would not be of concern to them? The talking points distributed by the Administration includes this advice to the Dreamers.
The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.
No worries. They will just go back to a country where they probably know no one and do not even speak the language. Sure.
There is much ado about how “conflicted” Mr. Trump is about this decision because he wants to follow the rule of law and yet he has “great heart” and “loves” the Dreamers. Just ask him. His administration portrayed the decision as a moral dilemma. Hogwash. Mr. Trump has about as good of a moral compass as a tumbleweed. Over time, Mr. Trump has had as many moral and political positions on the widest variety of issues as anyone known to have achieved elected office. You name a position, and he has had it at one time or another, including on Dreamers.
Mr. Trump is not conflicted over moral decisions. He is only conflicted in terms of what gives him the best political outcome. In this case, he got himself into a dilemma because there is no good political outcome. All he cares about is “winning” and not what the impact of the policy might be. Follow his argument in the ensuing paragraphs and see how circuitous and illogical it actually turns out to be.
His primary purpose for announcing this change in policy now, under less than optimal circumstances given the need before the end of September to raise the debt limit, pass a budget, provide aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, deal with the crisis in North Korea, and prepare for what looks to be another major crisis from Hurricane Irma, to name just a few things hanging over our heads, is to satisfy the hard-liners in his base — which continues to shrink. Arguably, on this issue he is not even following his base. Most polls show that about 75% of Americans approve of DACA and only about 15% say the Dreamers should be deported. Of Trump supporters only 25% say the Dreamers should be deported and about 70% think that DACA should stay in place.
Mr. Trump’s motivation is only and purely political. Yesterday, he showed that he does not have the fortitude to stand by the tough calls. We all know his penchant for the big show and, as he calls them “ratings.” So here is a big “tell” — he was nowhere to be found when the announcement that DACA would end was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Attorney General took no questions from the press after the announcement. Mr. Trump demonstrated no sense of responsibility for his decision, even as his press secretary constantly turned all questions to Congress and away from Mr. Trump.
There was no moral dilemma for Mr. Trump. I would say there never is one that impacts his thinking, but I digress. Instead of addressing the issue, he passed it to Congress in a very Pontius Pilate kind of way. He washes his hands of it. If in six months there is no new DREAM Act or something like it, then it is not his fault. Oh by the way, Mr. Trump gave absolutely no guidance to Congress as to what kind of bill it should be, what he wants to see (or not see) in it, and what problems it should solve. No guidance whatsoever. Like many issues, he provided no leadership on the issue. I suppose as with health care legislation, “I am sitting with pen in hand” to sign a bill. Any bill. We are winning. If nothing passes it is not his fault. If it does pass he will be the first to proclaim that he solved the problem. A huge problem.
Mr. Trump cannot take the lead on solving the Dreamer problem because if he does, it will undermine the entire basis of his campaign and post-election rhetoric. His demagoguery is based on the argument that immigrants are stealing jobs. But he suspected, and now knows, that there will be a big backlash to heartlessly tossing out young people that are Americans in every way except on paper. Mr. Trump needs to prop up his campaign lies (fact checkers now have him at 1,114 false or misleading statements in the first 227 days of his administration) that deportation helps US jobs.
He rose to prominence as an anti-immigrant fear monger, starting with the despicable “Birther Movement” claiming President Obama was not an American. Since then has built his coalition around being anti-immigrant. Simply compare the record of the average Dreamer and what they have done for America (and perhaps more importantly what they will do in the future) to all of the accomplishments of Mr. Trump’s hero, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Even with that, he cannot be consistent. Mr. Trump makes an economic argument as to why we should deport all undocumented immigrants because they are taking all the jobs. But then he turns around and pushes Congress to pass a law to keep them. Great logic, great morality, great demagoguery.
Houston, we have a problem. Who is going to rebuild following Hurricane Harvey? Who does Mr. Trump think is going to do the construction and hard-core clean up following the destruction experienced across many, many square miles of Houston, east Texas and Louisiana? Sure, let’s get rid of all those hard-working $10 an hour folks and bring in, who exactly? Get real.
Most people may understand what Mr. Trump’s decision means on personal terms to those impacted. Most, however, probably do not understand the economic impact. Every major CEO and most small business owners opposed the termination of DACA based on economic factors. Studies indicate that about 91% of all Dreamers are employed. As their work permits expire, about 30,000 will lose their jobs each month. That translates to lots of lost productivity and expertise for the their employers and adds up to reducing the national gross domestic product by $433 billion (yes, with a B) over ten years. It also means the loss of nearly $25 billion (another B!) dollars in taxes to programs such as Medicare and Social Security. (Yes, Dreamers pay taxes.)
None of that takes into account the Dreamers currently serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. What happens to them? What happens to the veterans that honorably served this nation? Just throw them out?
There clearly are some Constitutional issues. These are worthy of consideration and debate. Clearly Congress should shoulder the burden and do their job, as they should do in so many areas where they seem unable to govern. Usually, however, Constitutional issues get settled in the courts, not by a unilateral decision on the part of Mr. Trump or Attorney General Sessions. As I write, many state Attorneys General have spoken up and plan to take Mr. Trump’s decision to court. We shall see how that unfolds.
But let me ask this rhetorical question. Early in his administration, Mr. Trump’s Muslim Ban was touted as being totally within the Constitutional bounds of his office. They argued that he had “extraordinary powers” in cases of immigration and was totally within the power of the office to keep people out. Does it not seem logical that if Mr. Trump can keep people out, he can also use that power to keep them in?
In all, I find this one more example of a tumbling tumbleweed administration. Mr. Trump is just blowing in the wind, merely reacting day-to-day with no particular vision (and according to reported sources inside the White House, no understanding of the issues or their implications) other than keeping the dedicated base cheering at his campaign rallies. And oh, spending time watching “the shows” on television and tweeting.
“We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans with a capital “A”. You know what that means? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.” Bill Murray as “John Winger” in the movie Stripes.
President Obama’s speech last Thursday outlining an Executive Order regarding immigration raised a national hue and cry about the merits of his actions. Some applauded it, some opposed it on Constitutional grounds and some opposed because, because, well I’m not quite sure why they opposed it, but they sure are vociferous about it.
I am not a Constitutional lawyer and so I will leave it to the experts (of which I’ve heard very few certified experts weigh in — and they seem to be split) as to the Constitutionality of his actions. It seems from what I read that there is merit to his claim that it is within his power, as well as precedents by previous Republican and Democrat presidents, but I’ll keep an open mind about it as it plays out. I’m more interested in trying to take the emotion out of it and trying to discern the facts surrounding the issue.
The Pew Research Center did significant research into the immigration issue and continues to do so. Interestingly, they find that 75% of Americans surveyed believe that our immigration laws need “to be completely rebuilt” or have “major changes.” Only 21% said that the laws are fine or need only “minor changes.” So it would seem that many United States citizens are looking for the laws to change. There is less agreement on what those changes should be, but still nearly 73% of those surveyed believe that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally. There is far less agreement on the means to allow them to stay, ranging from permanent residency only to the belief that there should be a path to citizenship, even if it isn’t an easy one.
They also reveal that there is a misperception on current enforcement of the border. In recent years, over 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported. Significantly higher than for most of the last twenty years. Conversely, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States also increased over those twenty years — although it is down over the last six years. In other words, there are lots of ways to look at the numbers, but one cannot argue that there is no, or lax, enforcement at the borders. To be realistic about it, there will never be (or almost certainly a nearly non-existent chance) a time where no one crosses the border illegally. We should also note, that not all of those undocumented immigrants are crossing the border illegally. There is a significant portion that came to the United States legally, but never left. Many of those are in college or in jobs that contribute to the American economy. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans are nearly evenly split on whether the presence of undocumented immigrants helps or hinders our economy. According to their survey, 49% believe their presence “strengthens” the economy and 41% believe that they are a “burden.”
Canards that undocumented immigrants are a pathway to terrorism, and even the spread of Ebola, are merely the hysterical statements of those desperate to get elected, or to find themselves in the news. There is no evidence of either taking place.
I am sympathetic to the argument that our country should not condone illegal activity and, some argue, short change those immigrants that play by the rules and wait years to legally enter the country as workers or permanent residents. I also argue that it is unrealistic to believe that we are going to round-up and deport 11 million people and send them to, to, where exactly is it that we are going to send them? And how? To say “back where they came from” is hardly realistic. And realism is what we need. Deportation, as has been accurately reported, will also tear families apart, as some family members are legal residents and some are American citizens. How do we deal with that reality? Talk about an impact on our economy and the militarization of our nation — try rounding up 11 million people from across every state in the Union and transporting them outside of our borders. Not to mention the impact on the stability of the rest of the world.
This is a knotty problem. There are no easy solutions. I keep coming back to the idea that our country is a nation of immigrants. I daresay many of us would not be upstanding, law-abiding citizens in our nation today if one of our ancestors had not immigrated from somewhere else. And recall that for much of our nation’s history, all you had to do was show up and find your own way. So what do we do today?
As you know, the Senate already addressed the issue. In June, 2013, nearly 16 months ago, by a vote of 68 to 32 a bipartisan bill passed. (Let us just note that in the current political climate, the Senate usually cannot muster 68 votes in favor of sending flowers on Mother’s Day.) The bill is not perfect, and reflecting its bipartisan flavor has something for everyone to dislike or like. It’s key provisions involve a pathway to citizenship that takes about twelve years and involves some very specific actions to make up for their previously illegal status. It also addresses increased border security, an expansion of high skill visas, a guest worker program and employment verification. All of the things that those serious about reforming our immigration laws, from both sides of the aisle, want to see.
This is where I am critical of the opponents to any reform. Speaker of the House John Boehner asked the president to “wait” and he will bring up the issue of immigration in the next Congress. I am not sure why the president would think that Speaker Boehner would follow through on that statement (when specifically asked, Speaker Boehner would not promise to bring up the issue). The House had nearly 16 months to act on a bill passed by the Senate and that the president said he would sign. And nothing happened. Nothing. Not a hearing in committee. Not a vote on the floor. Not an alternative bill that addresses the issue and that could then go to negotiations. Nothing. There is no reason to believe that anything would be different in the coming Congress. And by most Republican and Democratic polls, it would pass. But since politics and not what is good for the nation seems to dominate everything in the House of Representatives these days, Speaker Boehner will not bring it up because he knows he would need Democrat’s votes to pass it and he will only bring up bills that will pass with only Republican’s votes. I am not saying this hasn’t happened in the past or that Republicans are the only one’s to do this, but I am saying that in the past, both Republicans and Democrats brought important, but divisive within their own parties, bills to the floor that passed and the leadership did it because they thought it important to the country.
Those running around yelling “amnesty” should take another look at the Executive Order and at the Senate bill. There is no amnesty as defined by the dictionary. (“A pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons, usually for a political offense; the act of a sovereign power officially forgiving certain classes of persons who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted.“) Amnesty means that there will never be any action taken against the perpetrators of the forgiven offense. This is not what the president did, and it is not what the Senate bill does. However, for those that just like to shout slogans, I suppose it gives them something to shout about.
I am with the president in this respect. If certain members of the House and Senate do not like what he has done, then pass a bill. They can undo what he has done. However, I do not think that no action is the way to go. In all the hand wringing and ‘toing and froing” I have yet to hear a serious proposal from the loyal opposition as to how they would deal with the issue. To coin a phrase, I suppose those opposed to any action on immigration advocate “don’t ask, don’t tell”. By doing nothing, they are endorsing the status quo. If only they would say so. However, I guess they can get more political mileage out of complaining rather than doing something.
Others more knowledgeable than I will decide the Constitutionality of the president’s actions. But I remind everyone that it will become a moot point if the House finally acts.