The Craziest Week Ever In Immigration Law and Policy: Trying to Make Sense of Presidential Insanity

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(Photo/Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)

This morning, President Donald Trump Tweeted “The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border. Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low. Stop drugs!” Try and figure out what the president is saying in that social media post and let me know.

My Immigration Clinic class at Hofstra Law School meets on Friday mornings, and this week I decided we would discuss the immigration news from Washington over the last seven days. When I started preparing a set of topics with links to news coverage of what has been going on, I wondered if any student could possibly have enough hours in the day to read about the last seven days of immigration policy madness.

The first thing I asked the students to read about was the imposition of quotas on immigration judges by the head of the immigration court system. The immigration courts are administered by the Department of Justice and so they fall under the control of Jeff Sessions. After the courts became highly politicized during the Reagan Administration when they were run by scandal-plagued Attorney General Ed Meese, subsequent presidents have tried to give the immigration judges at least a semblance of independence.

The immigration judges themselves, through their national organization, expressed “shock and dismay” when they received word of the quotas. “We have strenuously opposed this plan each step of the way since the it was first raised last fall,” said National Association of Immigration Judges President Ashley Tabaddor, who serves as an Immigration Judge in Los Angeles. “It’s our belief that such measures will undermine the public’s faith in the fairness of our courts, leading to a huge increase in appeals and legal challenges that in turn will create crippling delays in our already overburdened immigration courts and flood the federal courts of appeal as well. If history has taught us any lessons, it is that attempts to streamline like this ultimately will increase the backlog.” As Judge Tabaddor points out, requiring sloppy work in immigration courts will only result in more appeals to the Federal courts, creating a potentially unbreakable log-jam.

So, that was the news on Good Friday. On Saturday night I went to the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Brigid’s Church in Westbury. It was a lovely service held over nearly three hours in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. It was a real celebration of our diverse Westbury community and of the  renewal and rebirth offered. I went to bed in good spirits awaiting the celebration of Easter Sunday.

I woke up to find out that our president had spent his Easter morning Tweeting truly hateful messages telling children and young adults with DACA that, as far as he was concerned, the program that offered them hope was dead. He took time on his way to church to blame the end of DACA on the Democrats.

I won’t spend a lot of time debunking the president’s claims about DACA on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, they have been all over the news. I will just remind readers that Trump ended DACA in order to extort concessions from legislators who support immigrants. Trump ended DACA, not the Democrats or Congress. He did not just ask for funding for The Wall in exchange for a legalization program for DREAMers, he demanded the decimation of the Family-Based immigration system, the cutting of legal immigration by as much as 50%, and the funding of massive increases in arrests by ICE. The president did not just use Easter to dash the dreams of young immigrants, he also blatantly lied while doing so.

Then, it being Easter Week, the president’s thoughts turned to the military. First, he said that he was going to use Pentagon funding to build The Wall. The fact that budget lines for one executive department, Defense, can’t simply be shifted at presidential whim to another department, Homeland Security, seemed to elude the only politician in Washington who is unfamiliar with the structure of the United States government.

Next, President Trump announced that he would be deploying the army to the border. Mind you, the military has been extremely stretched ever since 2001, but this was not the only problem. Under the Posse Comitatus Act the United States military is not supposed to participate in non-military law-enforcement inside the United States. Now he is trying to work out deals with conservative governors to send their militias to stare into Mexico.

Then the president thought of starting a new trade war. The conflict with China is apparently going so swimmingly that he wants to take on a country closer to home. Trump threatened to blow-up NAFTA if the Mexican government did not stop undocumented immigration to the United States. The president spent several days trying to create the impression among his base that the U.S. is experiencing an immigration crisis at the border. The fact that undocumented immigration has been declining since the Bush administration and that last year saw the lowest rate of such movement across the border were facts that just got in the way of a good moral panic.

Immigration also served as a useful distraction from more pressing concerns like the preservation of democracy. As questions were raised early in the week about new revelations of Russian government interference in elections in the United States, the president responded that the real danger was the so-called “refugee caravan” of approximately 1,200 people moving from Honduras up through Mexico. Now, whatever you think of this misbegotten caravan, it was hardly a threat to American security, and yet the president spent more time this week talking about it that he did about Russian cyber-attacks and poisonings.

If all of this is making your head spin, perhaps you can have a little sympathy for my students who will return from their vacation to try to analyze the week that was in immigration law and policy.

In case you are interested in reading the materials I sent to my students, here are the links:

AILA has a page of resources on the roll-out of quotas for immigration judges. Start by reading the announcement from the EOIR Director. Then browse the other links on the page.
The president used Easter to announce in angry Tweets that any DACA deal is dead. You should go to his Twitter feed to read them. Here are links to press materials on the Tweets:
Politifact has a fact-check on the president’s immigration Tweets:
Then there is the now-famous caravan:
The president threatened to blow up NAFTA over immigration:

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