Originally published by The Washington Post
President Trump started the border-crisis fiasco with the decision to arrest and criminally prosecute people who crossed the border illegally, even those prepared to show that they legally qualify for asylum. “Zero tolerance” is a misnomer. In the past, these people were subject to civil proceedings and deportation; Trump decided to lock them up. We don’t tolerate speeding, jaywalking or drinking alcohol from an open container in public, but we do not lock up everyone who commits one of these infractions in the name of “zero tolerance.”
The phrase “catch and release” — meant to suggest that illegal immigrants will melt into society and never show up for a deportation hearing — is another deceptive Trumpian phrase. In fact, we have had immense success with all sorts of alternatives to detention (ankle bracelets, case management, etc.) that have ensured that well over 90 percent of these people show up for their hearings. If (before he allegedly engaged in witness-tampering) Paul Manafort can be monitored through an ankle bracelet, so can a family fleeing violence in Central America.
Well, it might be time to expand upon that success, since Trump has effectively thrown in the towel on his “zero tolerance.” The Post reports:
Trump administration officials had vowed to put an end to the “catch-and-release” practices that have allowed parents with children to be freed from detention while awaiting court proceedings. But with separations mostly halted and little space to hold families, U.S. border officials are essentially once more back where they started before Trump’s “zero tolerance” crackdown. Until more family detention facilities are built, the reality is that most parents with children … will be let go.
Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed Monday that immediately after Trump’s order, he directed field officers to suspend criminal prosecutions for adults who arrive with children. . . .McAleenan said that while no category of adult would be exempt from criminal prosecution, the only circumstances in which the Border Patrol will continue to refer parents to the Justice Department would be cases in which adults have a prior criminal record, or if a child’s welfare was in danger.
For all his tough talk about throwing migrants out of the country without due process, he is now following the same practice that — shocked! — President Barack Obama did.
He could, of course, do something to ameliorate the crisis, such as taking senators up on their proposal to increase the number of judges (and therefore shorten the wait time before a hearing). He could pour more money into alternatives to detention with a proven track record. Rather than threatening to cut foreign aid, our State Department could work with the countries affected to help stem violence, root out gangs, interdict drugs and provide jobs for hardworking people who then might choose to stay in their home country. Instead of picking fights with Mexico, he could work cooperatively to improve security on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop migrants long before they get there. (Four years ago, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank wrote, “It could cost Washington much less to help Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to become more stable and prosperous than it does to deal reactively with the immigration crisis. Consider that tuition at the most expensive university in Honduras is about $6,500 a year. That is a 10th of what Washington spends to house and feed a minor held at a detention center for a year.”)
These solutions presume a desire to solve an actual problem. Trump, however, views this issue, as he does most issues, as a set for his race-baiting, divisive reality-TV show. He has no interest in learning what the problem is, visiting the centers where people are held, meeting with Central American leaders or doing anything productive. In fact, he said he is against hiring more judges. For Trump, it is about waving the bloody shirt, rallying his rabid base and trying to hold onto the GOP majorities in the House and Senate.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the House remain paralyzed, a picture of dysfunction and failed Republican leadership. The chances of a larger immigration plan are fading fast. Sure, the president hasn’t helped matters by telling lawmakers to forget about deals, but frankly, even if he wanted a bill, this GOP-led Congress likely couldn’t manage to pass one. Time and again, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has shown that he and his troops are entirely incapable of governing. Meanwhile, the Senate is contemplating a short-term fix with legislation that would allow children to stay with their parents more than 20 days in detention. There is no certainty that this would pass muster in the courts. Moreover, it would not address the problem of lack of facilities to house all these people. And finally, indefinite detention of whole families is abhorrent to many Americans, who are reminded of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
In short, Trump doesn’t want a solution, and House Republicans could stay in session from now until Dec. 31 and still not come up with anything. It is far from clear that the Senate can reach agreement on a viable bill. If this isn’t an argument for jettisoning GOP rule, I am not sure what is.