ANALYSIS: Trump Lays Another Egg On Immigration — Everybody Loses, But It Could Have Been Much, Much Worse
By Paul Wickham Schmidt for immigrationcourtside.com
Alexandria, VA, June 9, 2019. After a week of petulance, threats, and self-created drama, Trump produced a resounding trade and immigration dud. Faced with advisors telling him that he was endangering the economy, the only thing propping up his sagging popularity, a potential rebellion among GOP legislators, and an unexpectedly tough and resolute Mexico, Trump backed off of his insane and blatantly illegal plan to ignore U.S. asylum obligations and thereby rocket the U.S. to the upper echelons of international scofflaws and human rights violators.
The latter scheme, known as “safe third country,” would have mis-designated Mexico and, incredibly, Guatemala, two clearly “unsafe” countries to do the U.S.’s job by processing tens of thousands of asylum applications from those fleeing the Northern Triangle. Neither of the two countries has a viable, fair, and effective asylum adjudication system and both have major safety and human rights issues.
Instead, Trump accepted a vague compact by which Mexico and the U.S. basically agreed to do what they had already been doing without taking any decisive or effective action to address the actual humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle that Trump and his flunkies have consistently mischaracterized as a “law enforcement emergency.” Indeed, the New York Times reported that most of Mexico’s “unprecedented steps” had already been worked out in secret with deposed DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen months ago. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/08/us/politics/trump-mexico-deal-tariffs.html. Those interested can read the summary of the agreement prepared by Trump’s own State Department here. https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-us-mexico-tariffs-declaration-20190607-story.html.
To be sure, desperate and vulnerable asylum seekers, particularly women and children, will continue to abused, raped, beaten, extorted, obscenely tortured, and killed with impunity and little if any recourse as a result of this week’s actions. But, at least for now, the U.S. and Mexico are maintaining much of the basic framework of domestic and international protection laws.
Contrary to the lies and false narratives spread by Trump and his DHS cronies, U.S. law is not filled with “loopholes.” Rather, it is a fairly straightforward implementation of the international protection regime and treaties that have been in effect since World War II to prevent another holocaust from occurring on our watch.
If anything, since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, the U.S. has watered down its asylum commitment somewhat by adding a legally tenuous “credible fear” process to “pre-screen” arriving asylum applicants in mass migration situations. However, to date, the DHS under Trump has been too incompetent, misdirected, and frankly downright stupid to utilize this streamlined screening process fairly and efficiently.
By treating a somewhat predictable humanitarian refugee flow as a bogus “law enforcement problem” and mindlessly shoving cases into a “captive” court system that they already had abused, mismanaged, and destroyed, the Administration lost effective control. In panic, they have tried to blame the refugees, Democrats, Mexico, Obama, judges, the media, and even the truly hapless failed states of the Northern Triangle for their largely self-created human and operational disaster.
The first of the “unprecedented steps,” involves Mexico sending approximately 6,000 National Guard troops to the Guatemalan border to control illegal crossings. Never mind that the Mexican National Guard is a recent creation that exists largely on paper. Also, forget that Mexico has a questionable record of controlling corruption and systematic human rights abuses among its existing police and military forces.
The U.S., a much larger, better organized, and more prosperous country than Mexico, has resorted to militarizing the border, mass incarceration, family concentration camps, kids in cages, malicious criminal prosecutions, family separations, walls, fences, overt political interference in the asylum adjudication system, and violating international protection norms. These “gonzo” enforcement efforts not only failed to stem the tide, but have actually aided smugglers and traffickers and increased the flow of migrants.
Will newly minted, untrained Mexican troops succeed where the might of the U.S. has failed miserably? Don’t count on it.
Also, the last time I checked, it appeared that most of the Mexican coast and some parts of the U.S. are reasonably accessible by boat from the Northern Triangle. So, assuming that the Mexicans could “shut down” their land border with Guatemala, why wouldn’t smugglers “take to the sea?” How’s that Mexican Navy?
The second “unprecedented step,” is a continuation and expansion of the existing “Remain in Mexico Program.” This toxic gimmick punishes those who have been legally determined to have a “credible fear” of persecution by making them remain in some of the most dangerous locations in the world where they are intentionally and illegally impeded in many ways from pursuing their U.S. asylum claims from Mexico. To date, this program has only been implemented in a few locations, like San Diego where it has been an unmitigated failure according to a report from Kate Morrissey of the San Diego Union-Tribune. https://immigrationcourtside.com/2019/06/06/cruel-yet-really-stupid-trumps-remain-in-mexico-policy-denies-due-process-while-creating-court-chaos-enfeebled-judges-fume-as-aimless-docket-reshufflin/.
The results of this ill-advised effort by Trump to circumvent U.S. asylum laws reads like a “legal toxicology report:” “Aimless Docket Reshuffling,” mass confusion, lack of information, insufficient and deficient hearing notices, massive violations of the statutory right to be represented by counsel, no opportunity to fairly prepare, document, and present asylum claims, interference with the attorney-client relationship by DHS, and few actual case completions to name just a few of the many abuses. And, how will an already dysfunctional EOIR deal with yet another round of “new priorities” and more “Aimless Docket Reshuffling?”
A Federal District Judge actually enjoined this circus before it could get rolling. But, a “tone-deaf panel” of the Ninth Circuit allowed Trump’s assault on the rule of law to go forward, at least for now.
Nevertheless, the case remains pending with the Ninth Circuit. As EOIR’s rushed and sloppy work product starts to accumulate on their docket and the bodies and horror stories start to pile up in Mexico, more responsible Circuit Judges might actually force the Administration to comply with the law and the Constitution, not to mention simple human decency.
Mexico has pledged to “accept and protect” those sentenced to remain there. But, the Mexican border locations to which individuals are forced to return are dangerous for a reason. Presumably, if Mexican can’t maintain safety and order for its own citizens, it won’t do any better for vulnerable asylum seekers.
Finally, in third “unprecedented step,” Mexico and the U.S. agreed to promote the “Comprehensive Development Plan launched by the government of Mexico in concert with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras” to create “prosperity, good governance and security in Central America.” This part of the agreement makes the most sense. But “promoting” in this case appears limited to using development funds that were “already in the pipeline” in both countries. In other words, nothing really new here.
This was a golden opportunity for the U.S. to show real leadership by dramatically increasing its investment in bringing stability and prosperity to Mexico and Central America. Additionally, we could have created incentives (rather than threats) and benchmarks for Mexico to improve its asylum adjudication system and human rights performance. Partnering with non-governmental-organizations and legal assistance groups on both sides of the border also would bring much needed expertise in resolving asylum issues to the table.
But, that would have taken a President with vision, empathy, compassion, courage, competency, intelligence, and creative problem solving ability. Trump is the exact antithesis of all of these qualities.
Consequently, sooner or later we can expect Trump’s “latest egg” to fail, like all of his other gimmicks and maliciously incompetent schemes on immigration. Our “child president” will undoubtedly then embark on a new barrage of lies, false narratives, idiotic tweets, idle threats, blame shifting, insults, racist dog whistles, and general nonsense aimed at diverting attention from his own failures as a leader and more critically, as a human being.
Innocent people will be harmed and die, America and Mexico will be embarrassed and diminished, and the world will be a worse place. But, until America figures out how to use its democratic institutions to remove the kakistocracy, the disaster will continue. That it could have been worse, is only small consolation.
Why not strive to be the “best that we can be,” rather than just “not as bad as we might have been?”