“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was famously President Theodore Roosevelt’s philosophy of governance.
Our current president Donald Trump seems to have embraced the opposite idea in his application of government power to immigration: “Speak loudly and carry a legal wet noodle.”
Actually, when it comes to the Trump Administration’s two newest cruelties meant to stem the flow of migration from Central America to the U.S., he’s left it to aides to make the threatening noises.
There are several explanations for the president’s enlistment of surrogate bullies.
First, he’s been too busy tweeting insults at four young Democratic congresswomen of color.
Second, the last time he blared about a crackdown, announcing a huge nationwide campaign of ICE raids on immigrants, he triggered a massive resistance that included thousands of targeted migrants getting “know your rights” educations on how to avoid arrest. Knowing its targets had been forewarned, ICE officials called off, or radically down-scaled, the plan for raids.
But the likeliest reason people like Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mike Morgan were made the front men for the latest administration innovations is a third one – legally speaking, both ideas are likely dead on arrival when they get to a courtroom.
The more novel idea was to invalidate all applicants for asylum if they’d passed through another country like, say, Mexico, without first applying for asylum there. This sudden switch in the eligibility rules tries to force people to seek asylum in countries they don’t want and which have no agreement with the U.S. to accept them. Both Mexico and Guatemala have refused U.S. requests to offer what’s called “safe third country status.”
What are the asylum exclusion rule’s chances in federal court? As the Border Patrol’s Morgan admitted to National Public Radio, “We’re actually anticipating the… regulation will be enjoined.”
The second new wrinkle, assigned to be McAleenan’s baby, is to expand the “bum’s rush” expedited deportation proceedings to people who McAleenan said “do not have an asylum case or immigration-court date pending,” and cannot prove they’ve been in the U.S. for more than two years. Critics say this targets people who’ve done nothing wrong since crossing the border, and by shortening the deportation process and bypassing a hearing before a judge, predicts wrongful removals of people who are eligible for asylum or are actually legal residents or U.S. citizens.
A scary proposition, but several immigration law professionals have noted, despite the publication of the new policies, there are few actual preparations at ICE, Border Patrol or the Department of Homeland Security to enact them.
Not that other initiatives, including some noisily touted by the president himself, have proved effective in stemming the migrant tide.
Take, for example, the Trump policy to make the legal route to asylum, applying at official U.S. Ports of Entry, less appealing by slowing the process, cutting the number of immigration officers available to process applications, and then, ordering thousands of legal applicants to remain in Mexico until they get their day in court, usually many months later.
This asylum blockade diverted migrants to a new, but still legally protected route: crossing the border illegally, then surrendering to U.S. authorities before applying to claim asylum.
The flood of so-called “give up” migrants overwhelmed border control officials, and after they’d been processed, overflowed the detention facilities available for them. Which led to another improvisation – taking busloads of processed migrants to cities and towns near the border and dumping them.
Two such towns, recipients of thousands of abandoned migrants since the start of the dumping campaign on April,12, are Las Cruces and Deming, New Mexico.
Algernon D’Ammassa is an accomplished actor and journalist. He has covered the borderland region as a columnist (“The Desert Sage”) and reporter for the Deming Headlight and now for the Las Cruces Sun-News.