Dangerous Decency

Late October, last year, as everything fell apart and everything got locked down, with the pandemic raging but before the election, this was still a big issue:

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller has fleshed out plans to rev up Trump’s restrictive immigration agenda if he wins re-election next week, offering a stark contrast to the platform of Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

In a 30-minute phone interview Thursday with NBC News, Miller outlined four major priorities: limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing “sanctuary cities,” expanding the so-called travel ban with tougher screening for visa applicants and slapping new limits on work visas.

The objective, he said, is “raising and enhancing the standard for entry” to the United States.

In short, no one gets in. America is closed. Trump had muttered those three words more than a few times. Miller would smile. That was the plan all along:

Immigration has been overshadowed by surging coronavirus case numbers and an economy shattered by a nearly yearlong pandemic, but it was central to Trump’s rise to power in the Republican Party, and Miller has been a driving force for the administration’s often controversial policies to crack down on illegal migration and erect hurdles for aspiring legal immigrants.

Miller has spearheaded an immigration policy that critics describe as cruel, racist and antithetical to American values as a nation of immigrants. He scoffs at those claims, insisting that his only priority is to protect the safety and wages of Americans.

And he said he intends to stay on to see the agenda through in a second term if Trump is re-elected.

He’ll carry on. He has no regrets. He’ll make those people hurt. That will keep them out. But there was the other point of view:

Asked to respond, Biden’s director of Latino media Jennifer Molina said, “We are going to win this election so that people like Stephen Miller don’t get the chance to write more xenophobic policies that dishonor our American values.”

Biden himself weighed in Friday afternoon, saying in a statement that the agenda outlined by Miller represents “four more years of hateful rhetoric and division” and policies that demonstrate “cruelty and exclusion” rather than hope.

“This agenda is designed to do one thing only: divide our communities with cheap, xenophobic rhetoric, and demonize those seeking to make legitimate asylum claims in the United States to find a life of safety for themselves and their children,” he said.

Of course it was. Miller was still furiously angry at and deeply resentful of all those Hispanic kids being cool in his last two years at Santa Monica High School – like Trump, he never moves on from any grudge – but Biden won the election. Cruelty and exclusion were no longer cool – 81,268,924 voters said so. There were 74,216,154 voters who were as angry and resentful as Miller, suddenly with nowhere to go with that seething fury – other that the Capitol on that January afternoon. But it was too late. Trump really had lost. Stephen Miller disappeared.

That’s okay. Others stepped up:

Speaking outside El Paso on Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said border agents he had met earlier that day issued dire warnings that suspected terrorists are trying to cross into the United States via Mexico.

“You saw it in their eyes,” McCarthy said, referring to the agents. “They talked about, ‘They’re on the list.’ … The terrorist watch list!”

It’s ISIS! Or it’s bullshit:

McCarthy’s claims, which were echoed by another Republican congressman, were among the most alarming raised by a GOP delegation that aimed to highlight a growing crisis for the Biden administration amid a surge of migrants.

But some Democrats from border states pushed back late on Monday and demanded evidence to back up McCarthy’s assertions.

“Weird, as the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress haven’t heard anything about this,” tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who represents the Phoenix area. “Gonna ask for a briefing. Pretty sure he is either wrong or lying.”

Gallego, and everyone else, has heard this before:

McCarthy’s claims echo repeated assertions by President Donald Trump and members of his administration that terrorists were using the southern border to sneak into the United States, a line Trump often used to justify his attempts to build a wall and tighten immigration rules.

But those claims withered under scrutiny.

Weeks before leaving office in January, for instance, Trump visited another border region in Texas and warned that “we have terrorists from the Middle East coming into our country through the southern border.”

His administration never offered any proof of this claim and never identified any terrorists caught at the U.S.-Mexico border. What’s more, the State Department under Trump said that there’s “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”

The State Department also noted at the time that “there have been no cases of terrorist groups exploiting these gaps to move operations through the region.”

Perhaps so, but why not try again? That was the plan:

McCarthy said on Monday that agents told him individuals from as far away as China with links to the terrorism watch list had recently been captured crossing the border.

“We asked them what countries are people coming from,” he told reporters. “Yemen, Iran, Sri Lanka, that’s what’s coming across. They even talked about Chinese, as well.”

But only to him:

Customs and Border Protection has not issued any public notices about terrorist suspects at the southern border in recent days. Border agents have found people crossing from some of the foreign nations that McCarthy noted, including 11 Iranians who were caught illegally crossing the border in early February near Yuma, Ariz.

Some Democrats on Monday questioned why border officials wouldn’t have informed them about any recent terrorism apprehensions.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents the El Paso area, said she had also met recently with border agents and that none mentioned catching any terrorism suspects.

Something is screwy here:

Gallego said he would demand more details from McCarthy.

“I have the same security clearance as you do,” Gallego wrote in a tweet that tagged McCarthy. “Can you have your office arrange for a classified briefing for members to see where this info derived from?”

McCarthy will never do that. He doesn’t have to prove his claim. He’s a Republican. And he can use Trump’s signature response to this sort of thing – I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it.

That shut people up real fast – but not really. They just moved on. There was no way to reason with this guy.

But he’s gone. Biden has the border problem now, and the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake puts that in perspective:

In 2014, the United States was experiencing a huge surge in unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, it’s happening again. And one word demonstrates the Democratic Party’s continued and rather robust evolution on immigration in recent years: “Now.”

When that surge was taking place in 2014, President Barack Obama responded with a stern message for those who would make the trek north.

“Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.”

He also warned that much worse fates could await along the journey.

Obama was a Republican in that interview. And Biden is not Obama:

Today, the Biden administration’s new homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, has offered a warning that differs mainly in one word, but also hugely in emphasis. In an interview with the same ABC host Tuesday, Mayorkas said that people shouldn’t come to the border… yet.

“We are also – and critically – sending a message that now is not the time to come to the border,” Mayorkas said, adding: “Do not take the journey now. Give us time to build an orderly, safe way to arrive in the United States and make the claims that the law permits you to make.”

The comments are clearly the administration’s talking point, as Mayorkas said much the same thing two weeks ago.

“We are not saying, ‘Don’t come,’” Mayorkas said at a White House briefing. “We are saying, ‘Don’t come now, because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.’”

So, things had changed. The policy was new, and decent, and humane, and not quite ready to use, at least at this moment:

Stephanopoulos pressed Mayorkas on this talking point, asking whether the better message might not be “don’t come, period” – the same thing Obama said seven years ago. But Mayorkas made clear he was pleading for time rather than a full-on change in plans.

“Well I think, actually, do not come now,” Mayorkas said. “Give us the time to rebuild the system that was entirely dismantled in the prior administration. And we have in fact begun to rebuild that system.”

Yes, that’s new:

There are myriad nuances in immigration policy. In this case, that begins with whether the unaccompanied minors arriving at the border might have legitimate asylum claims or might have family in the United States with whom they could be matched. It’s not simply a matter of whether you let all undocumented immigrants into the country, as some of Biden’s critics suggest.

But that nuance wasn’t so heavily featured seven years ago. And there is a clear shift in emphasis…

Around the same time Obama sent his stern message to would-be migrants in 2014, former secretary of state and later 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton echoed his comments in a CNN town hall. When it was noted that conditions here were safer than in their home countries, Clinton responded that “it may be safer, but that’s not the answer.”

She too sounded quite Republican:

Asked whether she was saying they should be deported, Clinton agreed that was the preferable course, though not always practical.

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns about whether all of them can be sent back,” Clinton said. “But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”

But they really should be deported, but Biden thinks not:

Saying you don’t yet have the facilities and processes in place to deal with the influx is not the same as saying you will welcome everyone. But Mayorkas’s comments are hardly the only ones that suggest a more welcoming posture toward people aiming for the border. And the Biden administration has effectively acknowledged that.

At a briefing last week, the administration’s coordinator for the Southern border, Roberta Jacobson, acknowledged that the more, in her words, “humane” approach might be drawing people northward in high numbers.

“Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of, you know, pent-up demand,” Jacobson said, referring to the Donald Trump administration’s hardline policies that included controversially separating families at the border. “So I don’t know whether I would call that a ‘coincidence,’ but I certainly think that the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision.”

Jacobson added that smugglers were allegedly using this to spread misinformation about people’s actual hopes of being able to enter the United States.

That was a useful admission and political poison:

Credit to the Biden administration for acknowledging that its policies might have contributed to the border surge; transparency is great, and it’s a rather obvious conclusion. That said, that’s not the same as smart politics, given Republicans have sought to raise this as an issue whenever possible. And Republicans are already using and are very likely to continue to use Mayorkas’s and Jacobson’s comments to argue that the Biden administration is welcoming people to the border – whether or not that’s “now.”

That may be true, because the Democratic Party has changed:

Many of its leaders, including Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), were rather hardline on the border in the mid-2000s, saying things that echo much of what the Republican Party says today. The party has since become much more concerned about what its more liberal supporters and the increasingly important Hispanic demographic think, though they backslid a bit with that latter demographic in 2020.

The question for Democrats now is whether saying people should proceed with plans to come to the border – now or when the system can better deal with them – is what Americans want to hear when we have a brewing crisis there.

Sure, but which Americans? The 81 million or the 74 million? Trump can still fire up the few:

Former President Trump on Tuesday blamed his successor for the burgeoning crisis at the southern border, saying previous progress has been “eroded” under President Biden.

In an interview with Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump argued that his working relationship with Mexico and the partially constructed border wall had acted as deterrents for migrants while he was in office.

“We did a lot of things, and all of that is now eroded,” Trump said. “Today, they’re coming in from all foreign countries. They’re dropping them off, and they’re coming into our country, and it’s a disgrace. They’re going to destroy our country if they don’t do something about it.”

How? Maria Bartiromo didn’t ask. She finally staked out her position. Trump never did one thing wrong and he never will. She’ll do just fine. Trump is happy:

The Biden administration is scrambling to accommodate a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America who have arrived at the southern border seeking entry into the U.S.

Reports indicate the federal government now has more than 13,000 young people in custody. Many are being kept in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cells meant for adults for longer than is legally permissible.

He wins:

Democrats hammered Trump for his own handling of migrant children. Under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, children were separated from their parents in an effort to deter families from crossing the border illegally. Democrats also repeatedly criticized Trump for keeping children in CBP cells, where they did not have access to educational, health or legal services.

The administration will reportedly house thousands of young people at a convention center in Dallas and 1,000 more at a tent city outside of Midland, Texas, as it seeks to move young people out of CBP custody.

“They’re destroying our country,” Trump said on Tuesday. “People are coming in by the hundreds of thousands. Young people are coming in, and they leave their homes, and they come up because they think it’s going to be so wonderful, and frankly our country can’t handle it. It’s a crisis like we’ve rarely had and certainly we’ve never had on the border, and it’s going to get much worse. With a little bit of time, you’ll see those numbers expand at a level like you’ve never seen before.”

Yeah, yeah. Everyone has heard that before, but David Frum looks at the complexity here:

Migration ebbs and flows, in part, according to perceived opportunity. Traveling from South and Central America to the U.S. border is expensive and risky. The criminal gangs that control access and help smuggle people across charge up to $8,000 a person. Impoverished people do not risk that kind of investment lightly. When they expect to be refused, many stay home. When they believe that the door is open, increased numbers race to grasp the moment. In the Trump administration’s final years, border crossings dropped sharply. With Trump gone, border crossings have spiked.

That’s because people “hear” things:

Border crossers are vulnerable to rumor and misinformation. The criminal cartels, that traffic in people, are only too glad to offer deceptive hope. The best way for an American administration to deter migration – and save lives – is to communicate a clear and consistent message: Do not waste your money; do not risk your life; do not try to enter the United States without authorization.

But the Biden administration, so determined to break with Trump’s record on immigration, has found it hard to speak clearly – or clearly enough to counter the lies of the traffickers. Days ago, a New York Times reporter observed a woman who had been refused entry wail into a telephone: “Biden promised us!”

Biden had not promised any such thing, of course. But his administration has also not used the simple, certain language necessary to refute the cartels’ advertising.

Frum argues that Biden did the opposite:

Some Biden moves have actually lent credibility to the traffickers’ false promises. First, Biden put forward an immigration bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were present in the United States as of January 1, 2021. This sent the message to prospective migrants contemplating illegal entry that a very generous amnesty was at hand, even for recent arrivals, even for those with no asylum claim at all.

Then, on his first full day as president, Biden suspended Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers. Under the new policy, asylum seekers will be allowed to live and work in the United States while their case is heard – a process that can take years. During the Obama administration, fewer than a third of the asylum applications adjudicated each year were granted. More than 1.1 million people inside the United States are awaiting a ruling on their asylum claims. Those who perceive themselves as likely to lose may stop showing up in court, making them more difficult to deport if their claims are denied.

That sends the wrong message, but Frum thinks that was likely to happen anyway:

Biden’s early immigration changes seem to have been driven more by domestic political considerations than anything else. Because border crossing declined under Trump, Biden had the option of simply doing nothing and enjoying a rare positive legacy. But the Democratic base has veered sharply leftward on immigration issues since 2014. As part of his effort to appeal to that base, Biden acted faster and bigger than the situation he inherited required him to, and that has created serious and unnecessary political trouble for him.

But that base may not be what Democrats imagine, given Texas:

Residents of border areas most directly experience the disruptions of unauthorized immigration. And many Texas Latinos embrace enforcement-minded views on immigration, even if they also empathize with the reasons that migrants leave home.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the overwhelmingly Latino Rio Grande Valley by massive margins. In 2020, Trump cut that Democratic margin dramatically, and won Zapata County, on the border, south of Nuevo Laredo, outright. The Border Patrol is a major employer in the area; Latinos make up about half of its agents nationally, and even more in the Rio Grande Valley. On every other issue, Biden has understood that Twitter is a deceptive indicator of public opinion. On immigration alone, he is letting activists push him into unelectability.

Frum sees only one way out of this trap:

On Wednesday, the White House coordinator for the southern border, Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, got it right. From the White House press rostrum, she said, in Spanish, “The border is not open.”

That’s the message that will save lives south of the border – and protect Biden’s policy agenda to its north.

Perhaps so, but if so, there is still no need to bring back Stephen Miller. Go slow. Be decent. Be as humane as possible. And don’t be a jerk. That is what the last election was about. Decency is dangerous but those jerks had to go. Now it’s time to figure this out.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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