Originally published by The Washington Post
With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump is the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do president. For years, he ripped Barack Obama for taking summer vacations to Martha’s Vineyard and told voters he’d be too busy governing to golf if he got elected. On Thursday, Trump hit the links again on his 11-day summer vacation in New Jersey.
As he did so, his Slovenian in-laws attended a naturalization ceremony in Manhattan. Viktor and Amalija Knavs were able to become U.S. citizens because their daughter, Melania, sponsored them. Trump decries this form of family reunification and has moved aggressively to block other parents from following their children to America.
It’s part of the president’s campaign to reduce the flow of illegal and legal immigrants, even though three of his son Barron’s four grandparents came to this country via what he denigrates as “chain migration.”
The White House declined to answer questions about whether this is hypocritical. “They are not part of the administration,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said of the Knavses.
But the Trump team has also declined to answer specific questions about Melania’s pathway to citizenship. She got a green card in 2001, five years after arriving in the states to model and one year after she started dating the celebrity billionaire, through a program that was intended to help academic geniuses, corporate executives, Olympic athletes and Oscar-winning actors. “The year she got her legal residency, only five people from Slovenia received green cards under the EB-1 program,” David Nakamura notes.
In August 2016, The Donald announced to great fanfare that his wife would hold a news conference “over the next couple of weeks” to reply to accusations that she violated immigration laws when she first arrived. Melania, he promised, would offer proof that “she came in totally legally.”
Like the tax returns Trump also pledged to release, it never materialized.
There’s nothing wrong with golfing, vacationing or entering the U.S. through legal channels, but yesterday brought another blow to Trump’s credibility as a messenger on the immigration issue.
-- Bigger blows have come recently in courts of law: A federal judge here in Washington threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt yesterday after learning that the Trump administration was in the process of deporting a woman and her daughter back to El Salvador before her appeal could be heard in court. “This is pretty outrageous,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said of the removal. “That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her? I’m not happy about this at all. This is not acceptable.”
“The woman, known in court papers as Carmen, is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union,” Arelis R. Hernández reports. “It challenges a recent policy change by the Justice Department that aims to expedite the removal of asylum seekers … After being informed of the situation, Sullivan … ordered the government to ‘turn the plane around.’”
The DOJ attorney said she didn’t know the deportation was happening and didn’t know the whereabouts of the mother or daughter. The government eventually tracked them down on a plane that was bound for El Salvador, and they were put on a return flight back to the United States last night.
Sessions has changed government policy so that women can no longer qualify for asylum even if they prove that they’ve been victims of domestic violence or that they’re at risk of being targeted and murdered by gangs. “Carmen fled El Salvador with her daughter in June, according to court records, fearing they would be killed by gang members who had demanded she pay them each month or suffer consequences,” Arelis reports. “Several co-workers at the factory where Carmen worked had been murdered, and her husband is also abusive, the records state.”
Nevertheless, Sessions and Trump want to send her back — even if it means almost certain death. The Justice Department declined to comment, and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement did not respond to questions.
-- We’re hearing stories like Carmen’s almost every day now. Bloomberg News's Jennifer Epstein reports from San Antonio this morning on another case: “The day [Trump] ordered his administration to stop separating migrant children from parents caught illegally crossing the Mexican border, a Salvadoran woman named Raquel arrived in Texas with her two sons. She had fled her country in fear of a police officer who had harassed her for years, she said in an interview.
“She hoped to claim asylum in the U.S. and make a better life for herself and her children. Instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement took them from her, despite Trump’s order. The agency asserted that she’s in MS-13, the violent gang whose members the president has called ‘animals,’ and so a danger to her children. Raquel and her lawyers vehemently deny that she’s a gang member, and an immigration court concluded that she doesn’t pose a danger to the public; she was released from U.S. detention on bond while her asylum claim is processed.
“‘I left my country because I had suffered and here, also, I’m suffering,’ Raquel, 33, said in Spanish in the living room of the San Antonio home where she’s been staying since her release from an immigration detention center a week ago. … Bloomberg News is identifying her only by her first name because she says local police in her hometown have threatened to kill her … ICE refused to provide any substantiation to Bloomberg or to Raquel’s lawyers … for its assertion that she is a gang member.”
How exactly does this Kafkaesque situation constitute due process?
-- As of last Wednesday, 572 children who were taken from their parents or guardians remain in government custody and have not been reunited with their families as the result of Trump’s family separation policy. “The reality is, for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration,” U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, who was appointed by George W. Bush, told a government lawyer during a hearing last Friday.
-- Moreover, data released by the government on Wednesday shows that the intentionally cruel policy of taking kids away from their parents failed to achieve its desired effect of deterring illegal immigrants. Yearning to live the American Dream, they keep coming.
-- On a host of other measures, Americans are becoming more supportive of immigration and immigrants as part of a backlash to Trump’s nativism — especially the family separations. (I wrote a whole Big Idea about this in June.)
-- The AP reported last night that public controversy has also prompted the U.S. Army to stop discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship — at least temporarily. Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke obtained a memo that spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in a special program for immigrants that was created by Bush: “The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts canceled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them. In a statement Thursday, Army Lt. Col. Nina L. Hill said they were stopping the discharges in order to review the administrative separation process. The decision could impact hundreds of enlistees.
“The Army has reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued. Attorneys sought to bring a class action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted. One Pakistani man caught by surprise by his discharge said he was filing for asylum. He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee.”
-- Meanwhile, the White House has lost another of its most prominent Latino staffers. Helen Aguirre Ferre, who is of Nicaraguan descent, has left her job as director of media affairs at the White House. She plans to start a much lower profile and less important job in public affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts later this month when she returns from a vacation with her family. It will not involve answering questions about the president’s immigration policies. She came to the White House last year from the Republican National Committee, where she was director of Hispanic communications. Before that, as an aide to Jeb Bush, she blasted Trump for his nasty remarks about minorities and women.
“Aguirre’s departure follows that of another high-profile Latino, Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, who in June left his job at the White House as deputy assistant to the president and director of policy and interagency coordination to become a senior deputy chairman at the National Endowment for the Humanities,” the AP’s Luis Alonso Lugo reports.
In its Spanish-language story on these high-profile departures, Univision notes that the White House still does not offer a Spanish version of its website — even 18 months after Trump took office. That’s a break with both Bush and Obama.
-- Meanwhile, Fox News host Laura Ingraham is under fire for comments she made on her show Wednesday night about immigrants. “In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore,” Ingraham said over b-roll of farmworkers. “Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”
George W. Bush's former deputy White House press secretary accused Ingraham of “startling racism”:
“Outside the context of the moment, Ingraham’s comments are shocking. In context, though, the surprising part is that it took her so long to be so explicit,” Philip Bump writes on The Fix. “Two hours before her show, Tucker Carlson hosts ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ where he’s repeatedly made comments that are even more pointed toward protecting the interests of white America. In January, conservative media institution Bill Kristol — at one point Carlson’s colleague — described Carlson’s frequent forays into the realm as ‘close now to racism, white — I mean, I don’t know if it’s racism exactly — but ethno-nationalism of some kind, let’s call it.’”
-- Ingraham opened her show Thursday night with a monologue aimed at cleaning up the controversy.“A message to those who are distorting my views, including all white nationalists and especially one racist freak whose name I will not even mention: You do not have my support, you don’t represent my views and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear,” the host said to camera. Ingraham stressed that she supports legal immigration. “I made explicitly clear that my commentary had nothing to do with race or ethnicity,” she added.
-- As Ingraham made those comments on television, Trump was eating dinner at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., with a group of business executives. Multiple attendees told CNN afterward that the corporate titans pressed him to ease restrictions on hiring “talented” foreign workers. “The President said he would consider taking action to assuage their concerns via executive order,” Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak report. “But reached the next morning about the President's comments, a White House official said ‘no imminent action’ is planned to address the CEOs concerns.”