Trump’s Main Policy Is Destruction—Ours Must Be More Than Resistance!

Jul 29, 2017 by

The time to create alternatives is now.

Liberals have an unbecoming habit of dismissing Republican presidents as too dim-witted and disengaged to occupy the Oval Office. Democratic voters like to believe their politicians are brighter, more truthful, simply more prepared to lead—and Donald Trump is hardly the first right-winger to snatch power while defining himself against this smarter-than-thou liberalism.

George W. Bush was mocked as a frat boy who basically inherited the White House thanks to his family connections—and then his administration invented the permanent war and gave away so many hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue that the federal government couldn’t function. Ronald Reagan came off as a dopey B-movie actor merely playing the role of commander in chief—and then he set the terms of political debate for a generation. No one should presume that Trump’s cartoonish ignorance will continue to constrain his presidency.

Of course, an important difference here is basic competence. Trump has surrounded himself with people who are as plainly unqualified for their jobs as he is. The disregard for expertise was too much even for Sean Spicer, who reportedly quit after Trump asked him to work for Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier with zero experience running a communications operation of any size. Important roles in several agencies remain unfilled, and the Trump team’s increasing legal troubles will only make this staffing problem more acute. Ideology aside, people qualified to hold the most crucial positions in government are smart enough to turn them down at this moment. Nobody wants an audience with Robert Mueller’s investigators.

And yet none of this dooms Trump’s agenda, which is fundamentally one of destruction. It is disturbingly easy to break stuff, and incompetence is a powerful tool. That’s especially true now, when so many of the systems that govern our lives—schools, infrastructure, housing, immigration—are already collapsing from neglect. It’s hard to imagine they’ll survive the Trump era intact; some came into it broken.

So the progressive imperative is not only resistance, but creation in the face of destruction. Not everything Trump wants to destroy needs saving: The free-trade deals and neocon foreign policy he once decried have made the world poorer and less safe. We’d do well to end both. But on just about everything else, we’ll need to rebuild.

Health care is as good an example as any. Thus far, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have failed in their efforts to get rid of Medicaid (primarily because they can’t find a fig leaf of “reform” big enough to cover up their true intent). But Trump has vowed to simply break the Affordable Care Act and leave it at that. He has a really good chance of succeeding. In fact, he’s already doing it.

The president loves to point out that premiums have gone up and insurers are pulling out of the individual markets. Sure, but why? For two important reasons. First, because millions of sick people are finally getting access to care. Insurers can no longer just refuse to cover people who actually need insurance, and they’re trying to find a new way to make money. This is actually a good thing—we need health-insurance companies to make money if they’re going to stay in the exchanges. Federal subsidies cover those costs for the vast majority of consumers. Moreover, claims data for the first quarter of 2017 suggest the influx of sick patients that Obamacare invited into the system has leveled off. As all those sick people get healthy, costs should go down—if the markets are properly regulated

1) Ending prosecutorial discretion for undocumented immigrants.

In a sweeping February memo, Kelly did away with the Obama-era policy of prioritizing the deportation of those who’d been convicted of serious crimes. On paper (if not always in practice), the Obama administration directed immigration agents to focus their energy on those who’d been convicted of serious crimes and to largely leave alone those who’d been convicted of no crimes. In February, Kelly wrote: “Unless otherwise directed, Department personnel may initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens encountered during the performance of their official duties.” Translation: Every undocumented and deportable immigrant would now be fair game.

Gone are the tiers of enforcement that the Obama administration put forth. Even as Trump himself says that he wants to rid the country of the “rapists” and “murderers” among the immigrant population, Kelly has pursued a policy that targets all undocumented immigrants. Kelly’s policy effectively blurs the line between who is an “immigrant” and who is a “criminal”—despite what Trump says. On a practical level, immigration agents no longer have to think carefully about whether an undocumented immigrant they come across is a priority, because anyone who’s undocumented can go. As a result, those with no criminal records or those with the most minor of infractions are as much at risk as those with serious convictions.

Trump’s supporters have taken him at his word. “I think our president is going to keep all the good people here,” Helen Beristain, a Trump voter, told CNN this spring, as her husband, Roberto Beristain, faced deportation. He had not been convicted of a crime. “He’s not going to tear up families. I don’t think he wants to do that. He just wants to keep us safe,” Beristain said of Trump. Roberto was later deported.

2) Redefining who a “criminal alien” is.

In those same February memos, Kelly also expanded the notion of a “criminal alien.” Now a “removable alien” is anyone who has been convicted of a crime, been charged with a crime, or even committed anything that might be a “chargeable criminal offense” (jaywalking, anyone?). Immigrants who committed any kind of fraud (like using a fake Social Security number) or abused any public benefit would also be a priority for deportation, alongside anyone who had an order of removal that they’d ignored. But perhaps most stunning, Kelly directed the department to pursue anyone who, “in the judgment of an immigration officer,” posed a national-security risk to the country. In other words, any and every immigrant could be targeted by an immigration official.

This change blew the doors wide open and has resulted in high-profile incidents of longtime undocumented immigrants’ being detained during routine check-ins, such as Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a Phoenix mom who was deported in February after an immigration check-in. In 2008, Garcia de Rayos was arrested during a raid at the water park where she worked. She was caught using a fake Social Security number, and far from hiding afterwards, the longtime Arizona resident faithfully went to every check-in at a local ICE office since then.

The effect of Kelly’s memos has been to offer immigration agents new freedom to go further into communities to detain and arrest immigrants. Far from nabbing criminal masterminds, ICE agents have instead been reaching for the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants. In February, ICE agents turned up at a Texas courthouse and detained a woman fleeing domestic abuse. She was there seeking a protective order against her boyfriend, but left under arrest by ICE. Also in February, ICE agents waited outside a Virginia church’s hypothermia shelter and arrested two men. In May, ICE agents crossed an unspoken line regarding immigration-law enforcement when they entered P.S. 58, a Queens, New York, elementary school, to inquire about a fourth grader.

3) Calling for the revival of 287(g).

Most interior immigration-law enforcement—that is, enforcement that happens away from the border—depends on the cooperation of local law-enforcement agencies. There simply are not enough federal resources to pursue every undocumented immigrant that the Trump administration would like to pursue. In order to accomplish Trump’s goals, Kelly called for a return to old programs, like 287(g), which deputizes local and state police officers to act as immigration agents.

Together with Jeff Sessions’s pressure on sanctuary cities, the two are bearing down on localities that want to keep the work of public safety and immigration-law enforcement separate. Already, police arrests funnel undocumented immigrants into the deportation system. But under Kelly and Sessions, increasingly, police have become immigration agents.

4) Ending DAPA.

DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) refers to a never-implemented program from the Obama years which would have offered the parents of undocumented DREAMer youth and green-card holders short-term protection from deportation. Last month, Kelly formally dismantled the program.

DAPA was an expansion of the successful initiative DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gave select undocumented young people work permits and protection from deportation for two years. Nearly 800,000 young people have taken advantage of the program, which allowed them to get jobs, pursue education, and build their careers. It’s also been good for the economy. A Center for American Progress survey found that 20 percent of surveyed DACA recipients bought a car after obtaining DACA, and that one in 12 even bought a home. DAPA, however, got stalled in the courts after dozens of states led by Texas sued the Obama administration. The program would have benefitted an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, but the Trump administration decided not to defend the program in court.

5) Weighing the expanded use of expedited removal.

This month, a leaked DHS memo revived an idea which was originally tucked into Kelly’s original February memos. The memo called for expanding the use of expedited removal, which is the practice of bypassing immigration courts and summarily shoving people out of the country. As of 2004, its use was limited to those who were apprehended within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border and who couldn’t prove that they’d been in the country for more than two weeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.