Trump Using Children As Bargaining Chips In Immigration Battle
Children are not political bargaining chips, but that's exactly what this President plans to turn them into.
UPDATE (James Joyner, June 23): The above photo, which went viral, is actually not an example of this policy. I’m leaving it up because erasing mistakes isn’t the ethos of the blogosphere.
As I noted yesterday, the Trump Administration has had in place since May a policy that has resulted in some 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the border and kept in the isolation from their families. While this policy has come under increasing scrutiny from the media and increasing criticism from Democrats and religious leaders, the Trump Administration and its Republican supporters remain adamant in the enforcing the policy, which they falsely claim Democrats are responsible for. Now, The Washington Post is reporting that the President believes that he can use the fate of these children as political leverage:
President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.
On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.
Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.
“The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda,” he tweeted. After listing his demands in any immigration bill, he added, “Go for it! WIN!”
The attempt to gain advantage from a practice the American Academy of Pediatrics describes as causing children “irreparable harm” sets up a high-stakes gambit for Trump, whose political career has long benefited from harsh rhetoric on immigration.
Democrats have latched onto the issue and vowed to fight in the court of public opinion, with leaders planning trips to the border to highlight the stories of separated families, already the focus of news media attention. Democratic candidates running for vulnerable Republican seats also have begun to make the harsh treatment of children a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Besides increasing the odds of a broader immigration bill, senior Trump strategists believe that the child separation policy will deter the flow of migrant families across the border. Nearly 2,000 immigrant children were separated from parents during six weeks in April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The figure is the only one released by the goverment.
“The president has told folks that in lieu of the laws being fixed, he wants to use the enforcement mechanisms that we have,” a White House official said. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”
Trump reinforced that notion Friday morning at the White House when he suggested Democrats alone had the power to alter the policy.
“I hate the children being taken away,” Trump said.
The president used a similar strategy last year as he sought to gain approval for his immigration demands by using the lure of protection for young immigrants brought to the United States as children. That effort, which ran counter to Trump’s earlier promise to sign a bipartisan bill protecting the young immigrants, foundered in Congress.
Democratic and Republican strategists believe the odds of passing a broad new immigration law — this one ending the family separation policy — remain slim.
Not surprisingly, this apparent attempt to use these children as leverage in negotiations over a broader immigration bill has been condemned by Democrats in the House and Senate. California Congressman Adam Schiff, for example, on Meet The Press yesterday accused the Administration of using ”grief, the tears, the pain” these children as “mortar” to build the President’s much-vaunted border wall. “It’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress. It’s, I think, deeply unethical,” Schiff added. Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, meanwhile, said on Fox News Sunday that “using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent.” The chief spokesperson for the White House on Sunday’s news programs was Kellyanne Conway, who repeated the false claim that the current policy was the responsibility of Democrats and bizarrely blamed Democrats for not acting regarding this matter during immigration reform negotiations that occurred four months before the Trump Administration announced the new “zero tolerance” policy.
On some level, of course, it should not be a surprise that this President is using these children and the moral atrocity that his Administration is committing with every succeeding day that the “zero tolerance” policy” is in effect as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Congress. For the better part of a year now, he has been doing the same thing with regard to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Dating from back in January, he has demanded that any deal that would provide protection to the DACA beneficiaries must include at least some funding for his border wall, the one that Mexico was supposed to pay for. When Senate Democrats said they would agree to a deal like that, Trump turned around and walked away from the deal, leading Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to say that negotiating with Trump was like negotiating with Jello. Later, he upped the ante by saying that he would only agree to a DACA deal that included not just border wall funding but also provisions that would end the visa lottery and so-called “chain migration,” the system that allows people who have attained legal status to sponsor family members for legal immigration on a somewhat expedited basis.
The DACA issue, of course, was a crisis of his own creation since he was the one who had decided to end the program last September. Now he’s doing the same thing with the children on the border, which is also a crisis of his own creation, and he’s cynically using them as a bargaining chip to get what he wants out of Congress. To be sure, there is an argument in favor of at least some compromise if it results in getting these children back with their parents and these families seeking asylum being treated in accordance with the law. At this point, though, there’s no reason to believe that giving in to this President is going to be worth the price because there’s no reason to believe he’ll live up to his end of the bargain. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, but my guess is that Trump is going to find a way change the terms of any agreement at the last minute, or that he’ll use the fate of these children to get even more than he’s asking for now. It is at once cynical, cruel, and inhumane and the fact that his supporters are apparently fine with it is a rather apt demonstration of the extent to which this President has degraded the moral discourse in this country over the course of the seventeen months he has been President.