Immigration Referendum

Alan Zendell, June 22, 2018

It’s safe to say the midterm elections could turn on the immigration debacle. Consider the hot button issues of the past twelve months.

The North Korea summit didn’t move Trump’s approval rating appreciably, and if as seems likely, the aftermath drags along in the kind of stalemate that usually follows optimistic starts with one of the Kims, the summit will have faded into a frustrated memory by November.

The economy, mostly on the coattails of the stock market has been a consistent rallying point for the Trump Republicans. But the markets have stalled in 2018: the Dow Jones Industrial Index is down 1.5%, the S&P 500 is up 2.0%, and the NYSE Composite Index is down 2.7%. Employment numbers are good, but when Trump’s tariffs make everything cost more and retaliatory tariffs from China and other countries shrink American export markets, those numbers may not hold.

American voters have notoriously short memories. We’ve already seen signs of concern by farmers and manufacturers about the effects of a trade war. Project all that to November, and if Trump hasn’t delivered on his promise to fix immigration, he may have trouble convincing anyone but his base that his administration has been good for the country. Trump’s love of hyperbole when talking about himself and the blame he continually heaps on his predecessors leave no one to shift responsibility to if he fails to deliver.

His performance this week has left Republicans in a deep hole. His misstatements about separating families and the relevant laws have so far accomplished nothing of substance. He created the child incarceration crisis, and then tried to slap a bandaid on it with an executive order. But that order is a temporary fix at best, and at worst (and more likely) it will be impossible to execute because the White House is playing everything by ear with no organization or planning.

We’ve seen this act before, though the level of misinformation Trump disseminated this week is exceptional even for him. It’s not entirely clear how it occurred, but there are only three possibilities: he was deliberately lying, he was misinformed by his staff, or his administration is so mired in chaos, no one even knows what’s true. It really doesn’t matter which interpretation is correct – they’re all unacceptable.

He’s blamed Democrats, Mexico, drug lords, human traffickers, and the three presidents who preceded him for what he calls the worst immigration laws in the world. He says the rest of the world is laughing at us, and he may be right, but he’s dead wrong about why.

The “Democrat law” that Trump blames for the family separation crisis is a complete fiction. What caused it in reality was a succession of bi-partisan actions and orders that reflect Congress’s inability to reach a consensus on reasonable compromise legislation because extremists on both sides wouldn’t allow it. His contention that only Congressional action could put an end to child detention was simply false. Did Trump know he was lying or was his staff incompetently derelict in their research?

The fact is, he could have ended it by making a phone call, but instead he used the fragile fates of over two thousand children (aka hostages) as bargaining chips until the pressure from all sides forced him to back off. Now he hopes that appealing to a federal court for relief from the twenty-day limit on federal child detention will solve the problem. But even if the court that has already rejected a similar request in the past grants it this time, it will only result in a backlog of entry and asylum applications that could drag well past the election before it is resolved. And let’s not forget those DACA kids who have been left dangling with no clear future because Trump has never cared what happens to them.

Three days ago, Trump punted the responsibility back to Congress, and while he was probably correct to do so, he doesn’t appreciate that the problem can only be solved with a bipartisan effort. He still thinks he can play chicken with House Republicans who don’t seem to able to agree among themselves and with Senate Democrats who he needs if he expects to pass meaningful legislation.

But it’s clear today that he’s only setting Congress up to fail so he can blame them, just as he did with health care. This morning, after challenging them to fix immigration, Trump pulled the rug out from under the House Republicans which had been scrambling to try to pass something. He told them not to bother until after the election when he’s certain his majority in Congress will increase, and he can be even more hard line than he is now.

Think of it, 535 people elected by the people to represent them in Congress, scurrying around doing his bidding. It must make him feel almost king-like. Of course, if the rest of us get off our butts and vote next November, the 39% of voters who still approve of him won’t be enough to save his Congressional majority much less increase it. It’s up to us to show him he’s not a king after all.

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