Causes not symptoms
by Tom Sullivan
The level of national anguish over the Trump administration's unconscionable treatment of children on the southern border obscures the deeper factors at work that precipitated it. As does the immediacy of preventing additional long-term damage to the children involved.
In a reunification scene between mother and child in Baltimore, the Guatemalan mother weeps as she hold her seven-year-old for the first time in a month. The boy seems at first dazed from his month in custody.
But Damon Linker argues the right's crackdown on the flood of immigrants and asylum seekers is tilting the left further towards embracing an open borders policy that may prove as unworkable as it is politically fraught. "In such a situation," Linker writes, "it's crucially important for voters to know that, wherever we ultimately choose to set the annual rate of immigration and whatever admissions criteria we use, we will enforce it, by taking firm control of the border and continuing to uphold the politically crucial distinction between who is and who is not a citizen."
Peter Beinart, he notes, drew criticism last summer for writing that the left does not take seriously enough "Americans’ yearning for social cohesion."
More recently, David Frum cautioned that Trump's "brutish methods" are radicalizing his opponents, pushing them towards a view that immigration itself is a civil right and that immigration enforcement is totalitarian. "Immigration control is both conservative and progressive," Frum argues, "progressive because it enhances equality and mobility; conservative because it binds societies more cohesively together and strengthens the connection between a society’s past and its future." As an immigrant himself, Frum warns that "border laxness empowers extremism.
"If you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country!" tweets the extremist-in-chief. Trump is doing his best Col. Chivington imitation, branding immigrants an infestation. Those entering the country illegally (or even legally) are criminals. The law is the law, and if enforcing it is harsh, so be it. The message plays well with his base of authoritarian followers. They are already threatened by the loss of status resulting from the greatest income disparity in this country since the Gilded Age. The fear comes naturally that poor immigrants represent competition for fewer, smaller crumbs falling from the tables of the wealthy.
Thus, the focus on the southern border and the plight of those caught up in the inhumanity of Trump's "zero tolerance" misses another dynamic at work. Where there is one, harsh law for the poor and another lax one for the rich, you don't have a country either. You have a kingdom. That's just what Americans fought a revolution to end and what Trump and Trumpism seek to restore.
I read recently that someone (Paul Manafort perhaps) caught up in the Russia investigation was taken aback at his treatment by the justice system. It seemed so harsh and capricious, he felt it was personal. Someone was out to get him. The whine was not unlike, "You can't do this to me. I'm an American!" Only in this case, a rich American. Poorer citizens familiar with our system of justice know better. The wealthy and better-connected typically have the means to avoid it. It's not designed to punish them anyway. It's meant to enrich the private prison industry at the expense of the poor and taxpayers alike. Justice is a byproduct, if there is one.
What the focus on the humanitarian disaster also misses is that the solution won't be found either by improving the immigration system or punishing more poor refugees. It will come from paying more attention to the hemispheric neighborhood an America first policy abandons. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that most of the refugees headed north are fleeing some of the most violent countries in the world. The instability is the product of both U.S. interference and neglect. It won't be solved by harsher enforcement of our own laws but by the Northern Triangle putting its own house in order and making El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras safe again for their own people.
American involvement there has made things worse in the past, but leaving things to just work out while we focus on domestic problems seems myopic. In any case, America is on no mood to help anyway.
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