A burden. An infestation. Like refuse to be sent away and dumped elsewhere.
These are the kinds of characterizations evoked by the Trump administration’s considered plan to send undocumented immigrants detained at the border to so-called “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states” as a means of political retribution. The plan, which is of questionable legality to begin with, obviously has Trump’s backing and the tacit approval of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, but congressional Republicans have been slow if unwilling to throw their support behind such a measure. While not explicitly endorsing such a policy, though, they yet may try to leverage pushback by Democrats into a bipartisan legislative deal. Where there’s political will, there’s a way, eh?
Before we begin dissecting Trump’s proposal, let’s first get one thing straight about “sanctuary” cities and states. The term refers to municipalities and other jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal authorities on immigration law so as to reduce fear among immigrant communities and to encourage them to use necessary public resources and to report crimes to law enforcement. To this effect, sanctuary cities may prohibit law enforcement and municipal officials from asking about an individual’s status or may refuse to hold immigrants beyond their release date without a judge’s warrant for committing a crime not related to immigration status.
This distinction, however, does not preclude ICE agents from enforcing immigration law of their own accord. For this reason, some immigrant rights activists favor the term “welcoming city” or “fair and welcoming city” to pertain to these places so as not to imbue immigrants or their advocates with an undue sense of security. Calling your city a “sanctuary city” does not magically seal its boundaries to prevent federal authorities from coming in.
With that point behind us, let’s get to Trump’s idea. Donald Trump has had sanctuary cities in his crosshairs even before becoming president. On the campaign trail, he suggested refusing to send federal funding to these jurisdictions who fail to cooperate on matters of immigration law. In doing so, Trump pointed to highly-publicized cases like Kate Steinle’s murder at the hands of an undocumented immigrant as a partial justification for his policy proposal. Such a directive, as with the current notion of unloading undocumented immigrants on sanctuary cities/Democratic Party strongholds, would’ve been of questionable legality, not to mention it was probably overstated so as to gin up his base. If anything, Trump is more likely to target specific programs like Justice Assistance Grants or the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which President Barack Obama even eyed axing during his tenure.
In this respect, a decision to ship out asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities is nothing new for Trump, who has made illegal immigration his chief bugaboo since announcing his bid for the presidency. It is, meanwhile, of questionable utility. By relocating asylum-seekers and economic migrants within the U.S., his administration is making it all the more unlikely these people won’t be deported. Press Secretary Sanders noted this isn’t the president’s first option. As we all know, Trump and his stalwart fans want the wall and they want it yesterday.
Even so, if the goal is deportation and deterrence, this move would seem to fly in the face of that agenda. Reportedly, several mayors of major U.S. cities seemed to embrace the idea, and Central American migrants and their advocates reason this could actually be a godsend for them. In addition, some analysts believe the intended overtaxing of public resources implied by the administration’s plan would be slim to none. Even in smaller municipalities identifying as sanctuary cities or towns theoretically less equipped to deal with a rapid influx of people, undocumented immigrants would probably just move on if the economic resources were to be lacking in a given locale. There would be nothing to compel them to stay in one place or to dissuade them from heading elsewhere.
It’s one thing that the Trump administration’s sanctuary city proposal, as with that of a wall at the Mexican border, would be of dubious effectiveness in controlling illegal immigration and marshalling flows of peoples. For that matter, knowing Trump’s, er, penchant for details, such an undertaking would likely be a logistical nightmare marked by cost overruns, delays, harsh treatment of the people to be transported, and lack of meaningful oversight. As with the wall, however, it’s the cruelty of the messaging behind it that really makes it so disturbing.
Bill Carter, CNN media analyst and author, for one, decries Trump’s “vicious” revenge plan. For Carter, the “depraved,” “grotesque,” “insane,” and “sociopathic” policy proposal (as others have described it) is, on the face of it, “awful.” What makes it especially troublesome is that this event is but one in a sea of additional complications facing this country, a number of them involving Pres. Trump. Carter writes:
By any historical standard, the proposed White House plan to try to inflict some kind of damage on districts hospitable to immigrants by busing masses of detainees to those locations and setting them loose — like an “infestation,” a favorite characterization of this White House about immigrants from Mexico and Central America — would have unleashed a torrent of intense and sustained high-volume coverage. And viewers and readers encountering widespread analysis of a story marked by terms like insanity and sociopathy would recognize something extraordinary had happened.
Instead, the din of incessant political noise can be expected to quickly obliterate any effort to give this latest development what would, in the past, have been its proper due as a screamer of a headline. And context will fly off into the ether. Astonishment will ebb. Media heads will snap back.
For Carter, despite the obvious allusions to be made between Watergate and Trump’s scandals and despite the media’s “indispensable” role in holding the president accountable, when it comes to the mess that is the Trump White House, it’s unclear just how strong the media’s influence still is. The era of Trump is one defined by incomprehensible absurdity that defies attempts to easily define or explain it. As Carter makes the analogy, it’s like fighting wave after wave of zombies. After a while, the sheer volume would wear you down. In Trump’s America, news of a notion to move undocumented immigrants to and fro, treating them like trash, is but one part of an assault on the senses of the news media consumer. And, as Carter tells ominously, it just keeps coming.
Along the lines of what Bill Carter points to as a barrage of newsworthy events, this latest to-do involving Donald Trump and U.S. immigration policy is concerning beyond its immediate circumstances. For one, the half-baked sanctuary cities plan is a distraction from any number of things amiss with the Trump administration, not the least of which is the ongoing drama surrounding the findings of the Mueller investigation.
If anything, Attorney General William Barr, in his presser on the Mueller report and his release of a heavily redacted version of the document, has raised more questions than he has provided concrete answers on whether Trump obstructed justice. His presentation of its contents in a misleading, if not patently false, way has prompted Democratic lawmakers to call for Robert Mueller to testify before Congress on matters relevant to his findings, and in a few cases—notably as recommended by presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren—to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. Barr’s actions smack of cronyism and certainly have done nothing to appease those on the left who have closely followed this investigation.
To boot, news of this plan may be a way to get a less drastic policy directive across and make it seem all the more savory by comparison. Back in 2017, Carlos Maza, video producer at Vox and the creative force behind the “Strikethrough” series, which examines manifestations of the media in the Trump era, published a seven-minute video piece about Trump’s antics in the context of what is known as the Overton window, or the range of acceptability for an idea in public political discourse. As Maza explains in accordance with the theory, the easiest way to move that window is to propose an “unthinkable” idea, even if it is rejected, as it will make more “radical” or “ridiculous” ideas seem relatively “normal.”
As this concept relates to Trump, behavior that would’ve shocked us under previous presidents has become that much more commonplace. We regularly expect to be bullshitted, as Maza so colorfully puts it. A side effect of this reality, though, is that media outlets have stocked their panels with anti-Trump conservatives to argue against pro-Trump personalities, creating a new middle ground for the conversation. As a result, our expectations get lower. Republicans are no longer concerned with governing well, but merely with not being Trump. The proverbial bar is so low it’s on the ground.
Maza points to the egregious Republican tax bill as an example of this. The Senate version of the bill was rushed through a vote with lawmakers barely having read it. Meanwhile, Pres. Trump was busy tweeting about Michael Flynn. Suddenly, with Trump pushing his brand of crazy, the GOP’s chicanery was not the embarrassment it should’ve been but rather a win from which Trump’s ranting served to distract. The president provided political cover for his party mates helping to promote his regressive domestic agenda.
Maza’s report came out prior to the Democratic Party regaining control of the House after the midterms, so the political climate has changed appreciably since that time. Nevertheless, that’s unlikely to stop Republicans from trying to advance legislation impacting immigration. Earlier this month, Sens. David Perdue, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton reintroduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, aimed at reducing legal immigration to the United States by as much as 50%.
Billed as a defense of American workers, it is a proposal supported by White House adviser Stephen Miller—and that alone should give one pause. The claim that “they’re taking our jobs” has been argued for years without much credible evidence to support it. In addition, the bill’s given priority to highly-skilled workers despite an ever-present need for “skilled” and “unskilled” labor is recognizable as a backdoor to reduce the influx of immigrants altogether. The RAISE Act, ostensibly a piece of legislation geared toward benefiting the U.S. economy, appears to be plagued by an misunderstanding of the immigration situation in this country, or worse, intentionally skews a debate informed by racial prejudices. Next to Trump’s absurd sanctuary cities plan, however, it not only seems more logical, but more responsible. The available evidence suggests otherwise.
Amid the chaos of the Trump administration, a notion to send migrants and asylum-seekers to sanctuary cities as political retribution is just one in a series of confounding happenings. But even if doesn’t come to pass, the message it sends is not to be minimized. It is one of cruel dehumanization of some of the most vulnerable residents here in America, and it, unlike them, is garbage.