Don’t Throw Me in that Briar Patch!

Trump and company have a cartoonish view of immigration policy.

As James Joyner noted, Trump and his homeland security brain trust are floating the idea of shipping asylees to locations that have designated themselves as “sanctuary cities.” This is ridiculous for a variety of reasons, some of which were already covered in James’ post and the subsequent conversation in the comment section. But I want to expand on two points. The first is that this particular discussion highlights two very different views of immigrants, especially asylum-seekers from the south. The second is the utter absurdity of the threat to dump immigrants in self-identified sanctuary cities.

First, the threat itself contains a key assumption the drives the Trumpian/Millerite view on immigration (especially those from non-Norway locations), which is that the migrants from the south are all criminals, if not “animals,” and are only coming here to make life in the United States worse. If one pays attention to certain media outlets (or to some comenters on this site), one is certain to be told that the folks coming to the US are coming solely to leech off this great nation and/or to bring rape and drugs.

The contrasting view is that these are all human beings behaving in clear desperation seeking primarily to better their lives (and, especially, the lives of their families and children). The entire notion behind sanctuary cities is recognition of the basic humanity of these migrants, as well as seeking not to complicate local law enforcement’a job by a) turning them into enforcers of federal law, which is not their job, and b) trying to make sure that undocumented immigrants both would seek help if needed, as well as provide testimony to local law enforcement.

One vision sees nothing but threat; the other recognized fundamental humanity. I would note that recognizing fundamental humanity does not preclude having real policies about who enters, who doesn’t, as well who gets to stay and for how long. But the threat paradigm can only lead to cruelty.

Note this definition of sanctuary city from WaPo’s Philip Bump:

A “sanctuary city” isn’t a place where immigrants living in the country illegally have carte blanche to do what they wish. Instead, they are generally jurisdictions where public officials are limited in their ability to inform immigration authorities about people who are in the country illegally. The intent is to encourage immigrants to work with authorities without fear of deportation in situations where that assistance is important, such as criminal investigations.

Source: Trump thinks sending migrants to immigrant-heavy, immigrant-friendly cities is a punishment

Second, from the moment I heard Trump’s threat to send busloads of immigrants to sanctuary cities, to ostensibly show those cities “what for,” I guess, I had the story of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox pop in my head: “don’t throw me in that briar patch!”

This is true both from the potential migrant being thrown, but to the briar patches themselves. To wit, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan of Seattle writing in WaPo:

Here’s a message to President Trump: Seattle is not afraid of immigrants and refugees. In fact, we have always welcomed people who have faced tremendous hardships around the world. Immigrants and refugees are part of Seattle’s heritage, and they will continue to make us the city of the future.


In Seattle, we know that our immigrant and refugee communities make our city a stronger, more vibrant place. Our immigrant neighbors make up more than 18 percent of our population, and 21 percent of our population speaks a language other than English at home. They create businesses and jobs. They create art and culture. They help teach our kids, serve in law enforcement and the military, and lead our places of faith.

Source: Seattle isn’t afraid of immigrants, Mr. Trump

Or, the mayors of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cambridge:

“The city would be prepared to welcome these immigrants just as we have embraced our immigrant communities for decades,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told The Daily Beast in a statement. “This White House plan demonstrates the utter contempt that the Trump administration has for basic human dignity and the core values on which this nation was founded.”

“As a welcoming city, we would welcome these migrants with open arms, just as we welcomed Syrian refugees, just as we welcomed Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria and just as we welcome Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

“I am proud that Cambridge is a sanctuary city,” Mayor Marc McGovern of Cambridge, Massachusetts, told The Daily Beast. “Trump is a schoolyard bully who tries to intimidate and threaten people. I’m not intimidated and if asylum seekers find their way to Cambridge, we’ll welcome them.”

Source: The Daily Beast: Trump Wants to Bus Migrants to Sanctuary Cities. The Mayors There Are Fine With It.

Beyond what the mayors of these cities may think, the real issue is: will such a policy incentivize more migrantion? Yes, it will. Back to the Bump piece, check out where the immigrants are:

Looking at 34 sanctuary cities identified by the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, nearly two-thirds had a higher density of immigrants than the United States on the whole, by an average of six percentage points. While just under half the cities had a more densely Hispanic population than the country on the whole, cities with higher Hispanic density were often much higher. The 34 cities were, on average, six points more densely Hispanic than the country on the whole.

If you were an asylum-seeker, where would you want to go?

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael j Reynolds says:

    Trump’s latest ploy is, “OK, we’re going back to Obama’s policy plus a free bus ticket.” Yes, because the threat of a free bus ticket from the Rio Grande to San Francisco ought to really terrify Guatemalans who just walked across Mexico. I mean, if you’ve crossed the Sonoran desert with a toddler the very last thing you would want is a free, air-conditioned trip to a gorgeous city with an unemployment rate of 2.1%.

    The horror. The. . . horror.

  2. Teve says:

    @Michael j Reynolds: if that doesn’t work the Trump administration is going to go to plan b–the comfy chair!

  3. Teve says:

    Kevin drum’s headline for this topic is Donald Trump Gets Stupider Every Day.

    I eagerly await the Trump Chumps showing up to tell us how heinous that free bus ticket to Austin is going to be 🙂 😀 😛

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    I agree that immigrants, legal or otherwise, make a community better, not worse. I just want to note that I’m fine with enforcing immigration laws. I’d be fine with spending more money on immigration courts, and detention facilities, just to speed up the pipeline. I also think we could rethink the whole quota thing.

    But the one thing Trump’s administration has passed through Congress is a giant tax cut, so we have less money to spend on things like that. It’s almost like they want to talk big, but put nothing behind it.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    The biggest concern would be that upon arrival in a place like SF (2.1 UE) or Austin (2.6 UE) the poor refugees would be kidnapped by employers desperate for help.

  6. Kathy says:

    One vision sees nothing but threat;

    This reminds me of the Cold War, and how US politicians viewed Communism.

    They had some reason. after all, Marxism is messianic in its interpretation of history (and way wrong) as well as advocating inevitable violent revolution, plus the circumstances surrounding the USSR’s birth and early development added to this.

    But fundamentally there was no inherent reason why a given communist country would 1) be a loyal ally/vassal of the USSR and/or 2) an implacable enemy of America and the West in general.

    Curiously one person to understand this was Nixon, who sought relations with China.

    Back on point, if you regard immigrants as threats, then you miss the opportunity to have their support. Worse, you may also loose the support of their children born in the US, who are citizens by birth, and maybe even their grandchildren.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Back on point, if you regard immigrants as threats, then you miss the opportunity to have their support. Worse, you may also loose the support of their children born in the US, who are citizens by birth, and maybe even their grandchildren.

    Surely you don’t expect logic and reason to be understood by racists…

  8. DrDaveT says:

    While agreeing with everything you said, I can’t not pick on this unimportant aside:

    the story of Brier Rabbit and Brier Fox

    You mean the story of Brother Rabbit and Brother Fox, from the folk tales of Uncle Remus. When Joel Chandler Harris published his canonical collection of those stories in 1881, he rendered them in a semi-phonetic recreation of the intended dialect that is quite difficult to read for many people. In that spelling, /brother/ is given by the contraction /br’er/, pronounced (roughly) /bruhr/, where the /uh/ sounds like the hesitation sound ‘uh’. (Making it rhyme with ‘air’ loses the original sense entirely.) It was generally spelled without the apostrophe, though:

    ‘Ef you wanter projick, Brer Fox, you’ll hatter go home an’ projick wid dem what wanter be projicked wid. I ain’t here kaze I wanter be here. You ax me fer ter show you my laughin’-place, an’ I ’greed. I speck we better be gwine on back.’

    Thank you for spelling ‘briar’ correctly, though :-).

  9. Kathy says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Working from flawed premises, you can apply logic and reason perfectly and wind up with flawed conclusions. Like “abolish birthright citizenship!!1!!! and other nonsense.

    in the old days of paleoelectronics, this was expressed in the acronym GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

  10. @DrDaveT: You are 100% correct. I knew it looked wrong when I typed it and meant to go back and didn’t (the funny thing is that spellcheck didn’t like “briar” but I knew that was correct–and even checked to make sure).

  11. An Interested Party says:

    @Kathy: Pardon me, I should have written reality-based logic and reason…such a concept is unknown to Trump and his base…

  12. Kit says:

    Is Trump really being so stupid here? If he buses all these people off to sanctuary cities and all goes well, this will simply go unreported by Fox. If even one of those people commits a crime, then game on. And if a city finds itself overrun and unable to cope with the numbers, then Trump’s base will (be told to) conclude that immigration had been definitively proven as an evil. I’m not seeing the downside. What an I missing?

  13. Kari Q says:

    There’s no intention of actually doing this. It’s just to get people talking about it. I’m sure his base thinks that this would really stick it to the libtards in those sanctuary cities though, and when they don’t do it they’ll say it’s because the sanctuary cities didn’t want it and a fuss over it (even though that’s completely false) so it’s serving its intended purpose.