President Trump announced last week that he would be deporting “millions” of people living in the U.S. illegally, a promise that just happened to precede the formal launch in Orlando, Fla., of his reelection campaign. Anyone who knows anything about the immigration system saw that threat for what it was: a nonsensical bit of bluster that far exceeded the government’s ability to act but that would fire up the president’s political base while spreading fear and chaos through immigrant communities.
And sure enough, a couple of days later, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Mark Morgan said the target would actually not be millions of people after all, but would be about 2,000 families against whom the government already has final deportation orders. Then on Saturday, a day before the raids were to begin, Trump announced that he would delay the roundup altogether, to give Democrats in Congress two weeks to “work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border” — something that is not likely to happen and in any case has no direct bearing on the 2,000 targeted families who, since they had been ordered deported, presumably were deemed ineligible for asylum.
It’s whiplash-inducing, and in the end, nothing happened — which is what the nation has come to expect from one of the most erratic and inconsistent presidents in history.
In fact, the only continuity here is Trump’s ongoing animus toward immigrants, and his repeated reliance on bullying and blustering as a negotiating strategy. He used a similar approach when he threatened tariffs (which would hurt U.S. consumers) to bludgeon Mexico into promising to do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America, even though tariffs have nothing to do with human migration.
The president’s floundering incoherence is stunning. Trump and the immigration hard-liners who support him sputter about the government’s failure to enforce immigration laws, yet Trump himself now seems to be dangling a promise not to enforce the law as a bargaining chip to try to change another part of the law.
Trump’s failures as a president are framed by his personal shortcomings. Incurious, egocentric, incapable of introspection or reflection, he forges ahead on a dyspeptic gut instinct then seeks to blame others for failures or, in Orwellian fashion, calls a loss a win. The humanitarian crisis at the border, which results from hundreds of thousands of people fleeing danger and poverty in Central America, will not be fixed by bellowing at Mexico to do more, or by terrorizing immigrant communities in the U.S. with threats of mass sweeps.
The nation needs a coherent set of laws and policies to fix our failed immigration system. Instead, all we’re getting is disjointed declarations from a president who is clueless about the nature and scope of the problem, and preternaturally incapable for forming humane, sensible, workable policies to address our growing problems. So he flails. And fails. Again.