Monday, July 2, 2018
The various statements by government officials, news media, pundits, and politicians have created a great deal of confusion about why and how we find ourselves with baby internment centers, kids in cages, and jails over-populated with migrants. It takes more knowledge of government and procedure than most folks have to really understand how and why we got where we are.
The “why” is fairly easy. The Trump Administration wants to re-shape immigration into the United States to take in more people with high levels of education and skills and very few people with low levels of education and skills who do not speak English. Despite the fact that much of the U.S. citizenry can trace ancestry to immigrants fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, a significant segment of our citizens want to limit the number of people coming here for the same reasons their own ancestors came here. In addition, there is a widespread but false belief that there are many with criminal intent or criminal backgrounds seeking entry, although government data show that the crime rate for immigrants is lower than that of native-born Americans. There is also an exaggerated view of the MS-13, a gang that began in Los Angeles and exists in Latin America only because during the 1990s we deported MS-13 members we should have jailed. People holding one or more of these beliefs are a significant portion of those President Trump sees as his “base.”
The “how” is a bit more complicated. In order to try to implement President Trump’s immigration goal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made a series of decisions that have resulted in separating thousands of children from their parents and problems with caring for them properly. The major factor was Sessions’ decision to require all U.S. attorneys to process every adult entering the U.S. without a visa to the criminal courts.
Before this directive was issued, U.S. attorneys had the discretion to refer cases either to the criminal court system or to the immigration court system. They generally referred those who had no previous history of entering without visas and those asking for asylum to the immigration courts, which could order immediate deportation, order the adult(s) held with their children for hearing of asylum claims, order the adult held in custody while the child was placed with relative, or release the family on bond with the adult(s) wearing ankle monitors while awaiting a decision on asylum or deportation. When the U.S. attorney did refer the case to the criminl courts, the adult was held in jail and the child(ren) placed with relatives or in foster care. Only when the adult is sent through the criminal justice system is there a requirement to separate adults and children; so, Attorney General Sesions’ order to refer cases only to the criminal justice system directly caused the problem we’ve seen.
Complicating the situation is the decision-making style of the president. Previous administrations had clear policy-making processes carried out by bureaucrats President Trump likes to call “the Deep State.” All large organizations, governments included, need many long-employed, career professionals in order to function. These are divided into departments, sections, etc., that require different kinds and levels of skills, knowledge, and expertise. In previous administrations, presidents would use those people to think through what would be the potential consequenes of whatever the president wanted to do and then get the necessary resources, facilities, etc., in place to deal with those possible consequences before the program or policy was announced and implemented. President Trump has a tendency to order a program begun before his cabinet secetaries have had a chance to get the downstream necessities in place. This is a consequence of his lack of knowledge of how government works and his own work history in a family company that doesn’t even have a board of directors.
In previous administrations, people requesting asylum were not jailed as criminals before their asylum claims were adjudicated. Today, they are treated as criminals. Attorney General Sessions has also made a decision to narrow the grounds for claiming asylum by eliminating “violence” as a basis for requesting asylum. He did this knowing that there was a “caravan” on its way from Central America fleeing violence. The families in the caravans could not have known about these changes while they were on their way here. In addition, government agents have been slow-walking immigrants seeking asylum, keeping them outside on bridges for days or weeks at a time, moving themselves into Mexican territory to turn back refugees well outside the border, and/or denying their asylum claims before any hearing. The result of these actions taken by border patrol agents acting on their own is often to put migrants in the position of having to choose between returning to criminal-controlled towns to be killed, raped, or extorted on the Mexican side of the border or trying to enter the U.S. between ports of entry.
There were clearly better ways to deal with immigration than the current administration chose. But he chose to implement a policy without the necessary preparation for the consequences. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes to plan first and announce policy changes only after they have prepared for the consequences.