Af­ter false alarms, Dems move slowly on bor­der cri­sis

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Insight - BY JILL COLVIN

When Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­sisted last year that Amer­ica’s south­ern bor­der was in cri­sis, his warn­ings landed with a thud.

Mak­ing un­ver­i­fied claims about “un­known Mid­dle Eastern­ers” and prayer rugs found by ranch­ers, Trump drew eye rolls from Democrats and many oth­ers, who de­rided his tac­tics as lit­tle more than an elec­tion-year stunt.

Now, six months later, Trump’s new cries of alarm are again be­ing met with skep­ti­cism, though the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der has in­deed de­te­ri­o­rated. Law­mak­ers of both par­ties agree there is a gen­uine hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency, with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties and non­prof­its un­able to cope with the tens of thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies seek­ing refuge in the U.S.

It’s a clas­sic case of the boy who cried wolf.

No won­der the public is skep­ti­cal, says Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. “There’s a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, and I think that there are steps we can take to help. Un­for­tu­nately the pres­i­dent has never been an hon­est bro­ker about any of these so­lu­tions. He plays fast and loose with the facts.”

Trump and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have spent years blam­ing Democrats for fail­ing to work with them to close what they de­scribe as “loop­holes” that en­cour­age mi­grants to make the dan­ger­ous trek to the U.S. and that re­strict the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to re­move them once they ar­rive.

“Democrats in Congress must re­turn from their Va­ca­tions and change the Im­mi­gra­tion Laws, or the Bor­der, de­spite the great job be­ing done by Bor­der Pa­trol, will only get worse,” Trump tweeted again on Wed­nes­day.

But Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists say that, af­ter years of in­cen­di­ary com­ments and false starts, there is lit­tle ap­petite for co­op­er­a­tion with Trump on an is­sue that has vexed law­mak­ers for decades. The pres­i­dent, they say, has not only squan­dered po­ten­tial good­will, but also failed to demon­strate that he is gen­uinely in­ter­ested in po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

Many also ac­cuse the pres­i­dent of sim­ply stok­ing the is­sue for his po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit to en­er­gize his base and boost turnout ahead of his 2020 re­elec­tion race.

Democrats note, in par­tic­u­lar, the pres­i­dent’s threat to send mi­grants im­mi­gra­tion-friendly “sanc­tu­ary cities” in an ef­fort to pun­ish po­lit­i­cal foes as the stark­est ex­am­ple of why they don’t trust the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Aguilar said that if the White House were re­ally se­ri­ous, it would pro­pose leg­isla­tive lan­guage on po­ten­tial changes it wants for Congress to re­view and de­bate.

There does ap­pear at least to be dis­cus­sion un­der­way.

Last Wed­nes­day, act­ing White House chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney and act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kevin McAleenan met with sev­eral Demo­cratic sen­a­tors to dis­cuss bor­der se­cu­rity, said an aide to No. 2 Sen­ate Demo­cratic leader Dick Durbin of Illi­nois. The aide, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe a closed door meet­ing, said the talks were in early stages.

Other sen­a­tors in the one-hour ses­sion in­cluded Cal­i­for­nia’s Dianne Fe­in­stein, in whose of­fice the ses­sion was held, Jon Tester of Mon­tana and Kyrsten Sinema of Ari­zona.

For the most part, crit­ics say, Trump has in­stead pushed ideas that have made things worse. Those in­clude cut­ting off aid money to the Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries that mi­grants are flee­ing; lim­it­ing asy­lum claims at legal ports of en­try, which en­cour­ages mi­grants to cross il­le­gally else­where, and threat­en­ing to com­pletely close south­ern bor­der cross­ings, which could have the same ef­fect.

“The prob­lem is we’re deal­ing with an ad­min­is­tra­tion that doesn’t want a so­lu­tion,” said Rep. Ruben Gal­lego, D-Ariz. He ar­gued the ad­min­is­tra­tion could be do­ing far more to ad­dress the im­me­di­ate cri­sis, in­clud­ing in­cen­tiviz­ing peo­ple to ap­ply for asy­lum in their home coun­tries so they don’t make the jour­ney north, ded­i­cat­ing more re­sources to bor­der fa­cil­i­ties to process new ar­rivals and hir­ing more im­mi­gra­tion judges to clear the back­log of asy­lum cases.

Some have also called for mo­bi­liz­ing FEMA and the Red Cross to help pro­vide hous­ing and health care as the gov­ern­ment would in a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

“So­lu­tions aren’t re­ally that hard,” Gal­lego said.

Mean­while, Trump con­tin­ues to por­tray asy­lum-seek­ers as dan­ger­ous fig­ures try­ing to game the U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

“You look at some of these peo­ple; you want pro­tec­tion from them. And they’re say­ing, ‘We need pro­tec­tion from our coun­try,’ ” Trump said this week. “It’s a big con job. That’s what it is.”

“Trump’s rhetoric poi­sons the well for any deal mak­ing,” said Frank Sharry, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice, a lib­eral im­mi­gra­tion re­form group, which soured on work­ing with Trump af­ter he backed out of a bi­par­ti­san 2018 con­gres­sional deal that would have pro­vided legal pro­tec­tion for hun­dreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try as chil­dren and now here il­le­gally.

The White House didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Wed­nes­day. But in Africa, Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter and senior ad­viser told the AP that “there is no one so­lu­tion to solv­ing this prob­lem.”

“We have a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis at our south­ern bor­der of epic pro­por­tion,” she said. “Ul­ti­mately it’s go­ing to have to be done in Congress to change the laws that en­able us to main­tain se­cure bor­ders and en­sure that there’s ad­e­quate hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and re­lief for those who are strug­gling and seek­ing le­git­i­mate asy­lum in our coun­try.”


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vis­its a new sec­tion of the bor­der wall with Mex­ico ear­lier this month in Calex­ico, Calif.

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