Tom Clyde: This immigration crisis shows America at a breaking point
There isn’t a time in American history where we have gotten immigration “right.” It’s a very difficult issue with significant economic and security ramifications, infused with more than a little xenophobia. All of that makes finding a balance extremely difficult. So while it’s hard to get it right, I don’t think we have gotten the policy so monstrously wrong as now. Ripping families apart as a deterrent to illegal border crossings is terrible.
Trump made the decision to incarcerate babies in tent cities this spring. There was no new legislation. It was a change in enforcement priority. It’s like the police department suddenly deciding that every jaywalker will be arrested while ignoring the speeders. If the parents cross the border illegally, they are being jailed and prosecuted. The kids become “unaccompanied minors” because we put their parents in jail. They used to get a ticket and a court date.
The revised enforcement policy was so terrible that the American public actually responded, objecting to infants being torn from their parents’ arms. The administration kept coming up with ever more ridiculous theories to support it, including Propaganda Minister Sarah Huckabee Sanders quoting from the Bible. The tipping point appears to have been an editorial from former First Lady Laura Bush in the Washington Post. She said the policy was “immoral.” The emperor has no clothes.
After weeks of insisting that only Congress could change the policy, Trump signed an executive order reversing his prior order. Now children will be kept in the same tent jails as their parents, pending a hearing before an immigration judge. The people on the front line are now trying to figure out how to build family jails. The people keep coming; there isn’t time to really think this through.
And there’s the problem of a couple of thousand young children, some too young to even speak their names, who have been scattered into shelters and foster care all around the country. Is there a process to reunite them with their parents? Apparently nobody thought about that.
Congress is deadlocked as usual. Some found a security object from behind the safety of Laura Bush’s skirt. But if you are looking for leadership, you won’t find it in Congress. It took me a while to find any comment from Rob Bishop, but he is strongly in favor of families and border security. And kittens.
Aside from the sheer cruelty of this policy, I’m shocked at the incompetence in executing it. Trump apparently assumed that he would announce the policy and the flow of refugees would stop. They were supposed to see Fox News in their hotels while having the waffle breakfast, and say, “well, I guess we’re turning around.” But the bridge they slept under didn’t have cable TV, and they kept coming. Shelters had to be improvised. There are diapers to buy and change, food and laundry. Who knew?
The immigration mess is symptomatic of a general failure of our government to function, let alone to lead. Trump has accelerated it, but it’s been a long time coming. The paralysis of the Obama years built on the blunders of the Bush years with the endless war in Afghanistan and the Iraq mess. The Democrats still love Bill Clinton, but the grand accomplishments of his presidency still elude me.
We are well on the way to becoming a banana republic, with a corrupt and impotent legislative branch and an executive with an unhealthy admiration for dictators. Cabinet officers are using their offices as ATM machines. There are no grand goals out there, just a petty tit-for-tat in Congress.
This was the country that beat back totalitarianism and stood up to communism. It was a country that took care of those World War II vets with economic and educational opportunities that created a thriving middle class. It took too long, but we passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. We stood for something, and had principles and values.
How do we get that back? There’s an election Tuesday. If you are registered with either political party, you were mailed a ballot. If you are not affiliated with either party (and really, who would want to be?), you can show up on Tuesday. Your choices are to register as a Republican so you can vote in their closed primary, or vote in the Democratic primary either as a registered Democrat or an unaffiliated voter. I pay pretty close attention to this stuff, and I can’t name any of the candidates other than Mitt Romney. He has a primary challenger who thinks Mitt is too sane to represent Utah. So there’s that.
The situation really requires rioting in the streets, demanding accountability from elected officials. I feel like our democracy has been slipping downriver from us for a long time, and is now about to go over the falls. But I don’t know what to do. So I quietly go about my business, with a knot in the pit of my stomach, raising hay instead of hell, hoping that something will change before it’s too late.
We can’t expect Laura Bush to do it alone.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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