When outlaws administer the law people get hurt, principles get twisted and money and power get worse-distributed. But an outlaw’s real target is the law itself.
Perhaps the most malign aspect to President Donald Trump’s manufactured crisis at the Mexican border, less personal perhaps than his evil mistreatment of law-abiding migrant men, women and children, is his abuse of the law.
Immigration law and its enforcement have been a part of American government almost from the beginning. They’re out of date, but are mostly in harmony with international legal standards for immigration and asylum. The U.S. has dealt with bigger migrant flows than today’s across our southern border. Legally and successfully.
The record shows, generations of migrants have succeeded in paying more in taxes than they have consumed in welfare and have lower rates of crime than full-fledged U.S. citizens.
These successes have been encouraged by long-standing American law and practice. In law, the act of crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, not a felony. In practice, there was this unspoken deal: undocumented residents knew, if they obeyed all the laws, if they made their own way and behaved like good citizens, they’d be allowed to grow their families here.
Cross the line, break the law and you could lose everything to deportation.
Under Trump, it’s the lines that are broken, and the law changed for those trying desperately to follow it, putting them suddenly on the wrong side – the side that leads to deportation.
Which is, of course, the point. More even than Representative Ilhan Omar, the president wants these migrants to “go back” to where they came from, and his best shot at enforcing that is by getting people to give up their legal rights by breaking the law.
As lines of law-abiding people waited their turn to start the legal process of appeal for asylum, Trump and his Department of Homeland Security slowed things down, sending the people who would do the processing off on other tasks.
Discouraging legal applicants encouraged people not to wait in line, but cross the border and immediately surrender to law enforcement. Instead of stepping up legal processing, the growing number of “give ups” became an excuse to shift still more people off the port of entry processing desks, which doubled down the problem from bad to worse.
People who were processed legally were sent off to take care of themselves, people who were detained for their migration misdemeanor presented multiple processing problems from arrest records to housing.
Again, the Trump answer to a growing problem was to do less. Border Patrol began dumping migrants in cities and towns near the border and driving away. And these migrants were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones from single men to families to children on their own were locked up by ICE, Border Patrol and the DHS in camps and jails lacking in facilities and personnel.
And now for them, and for 20,000 migrants still waiting in Mexico for the legal road to open, Trump has changed the law again.
He couldn’t do it to us. The Constitution protects U.S. citizens against “ex post facto” enforcement of new laws against behavior that was legal when it was done. Does that basic protection apply to the migrants? Our president does not think so.
Cedar Attanasio has been covering immigration issues for the Associated Press, based in El Paso, TX.
“Cedar is a talented all-formats journalist who has an impressive track record covering breaking news, politics and immigration, which are all top priorities for the AP in our news coverage this year,” said Josh Hoffner, the AP’s news editor for national beats.
Attanasio is a New Mexico native who speaks Spanish and Portuguese and is adept at video and still photography. He covered events surrounding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as a freelance journalist and has worked for the Latin Times, Hearst Connecticut Media and the New York Post.
He is a graduate of Middlebury College, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in geography and Spanish.