Editorial: Trump’s hard-hearted immigration policies are a stain on the nation

President Trump discusses immigration with members of Congress at the White House in June.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA / Shutterstock)

It’s been six weeks since a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to fix the crisis it created when it separated more than 2,500 children from their parents under a heartless policy designed to deter desperate families from entering the U.S. illegally. But the job of reunification still isn’t done, in part because the government failed to devise a system to track the separated families. Some 400 parents reportedly have already been deported without their children, and the government apparently has no idea how to reach them. It’s a colossal snafu that is as appalling as it is inexplicable. Among the many inhumane immigration enforcement policies adopted in the first two years of the Trump reign, history may well regard this bit of idiocy as the worst.

Or perhaps not; the competition hasn’t closed yet. In fact, the Pentagon is working on plans, at Trump’s direction, to house 20,000 detained immigrants — including children this time — in secured areas of military bases while they await deportation proceedings. Yes, the Obama administration did something similar when it tried to deal with the inflow of unaccompanied minors from Central America. It was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now; kids don’t belong in prisons on military bases. Under a court order, the government cannot hold minors for more than 20 days before releasing them to the custody of their parents, other relatives or vetted guardians.

When it comes to immigration, there has been such a flood of bad policies and ham-handed enforcement acts since Trump took office that it can be hard to keep it all straight.

Trump’s immigration policy has been characterized by unnecessary detention and inadequate monitoring that has allowed for abuses at detention centers.

First there was the ban on travel of people from mostly Muslim countries and then the effort to eliminate protections for so-called “Dreamers” who have been living in the country illegally since arriving as children. Hard-line Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has inserted himself in the immigration court system and overridden previous decisions over who qualifies for asylum; not surprisingly, the number of people granted protection has dropped as a result. President Trump also has throttled the flow of refugees resettled here; last year, for the first time since the passage of the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act, the United States resettled fewer refugees than the rest of the world, a significant step away from what had been an area of global leadership. (Over the last 40 years, the U.S. has been responsible for 75% of the world’s permanently resettled refugees.)

Then there’s this: The White House is reportedly drafting a plan that would allow immigration officials to deny citizenship, green cards and residency visas to immigrants if they or family members have used certain government programs, such as food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit or Obamacare.

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And this: The now largely abandoned “zero tolerance” policy of filing misdemeanor criminal charges against people crossing the border illegally led to a surge of cases in federal court districts along the southwest border as non-immigration criminal prosecutions plummeted, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In fact, non-immigration prosecutions fell from 1,093 (1 in 7 prosecutions) in March to 703 (1 in 17 prosecutions) in June, suggesting that serious crimes are taking a back seat to misdemeanor border crossing.


Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report this week questions how U.S. Customs and Border Patrol set priorities in planning where to build Trump’s border wall, and said the agency failed to account for wide variations in terrain in estimating the cost — which means that extending the existing border walls and fences another 722 miles could cost more than the administration’s $18-billion estimate. And while the president crows that the wall will secure the border, it won’t, experts say. People will still find a way around, over or under it. And most drug smuggling already comes hidden in motor vehicles passing through monitored ports of entry. At best, Trump’s wall — if Congress is insane enough to approve funding — would be little more than a symbol of his arrogance, and of this country’s determination to seal itself off from the world.

Trump’s immigration policy has been characterized by unnecessary detention and inadequate monitoring that has allowed for abuses at detention centers — including sexual assaults and forced medication of children. The immigration court system is now overwhelmed by a backlog of 733,000 cases.

In short, it’s been a disaster. And through all of these fiascoes, there have been zero serious efforts in Congress or by the president for comprehensive reform of a system everyone acknowledges is broken.

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