Last week, President Donald Trump fired up his base by threatening to deport millions of immigrants. On Saturday, he backed off, ostensibly so House Democrats could pass immigration reform in the next two weeks. Good luck with that.
Give Trump credit for one thing: His ham-handed, bigoted approach to immigration at the southern border has focused national attention on the issue. If only that attention could translate into real policy progress and not just morally bankrupt enforcement.
Trump’s deportation threat was the typical hyperbole from a man who admits to thriving on chaos. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacks the resources and agents to round up millions quickly. ICE planned to target about 2,000 families in 10 cities, initially. The threat played well with Trump’s base anyway.
In fairness, the targeted families had lost their legal standing to remain in the country. They have missed immigration or asylum hearings or had deportation orders filed against them. It’s difficult to criticize the executive branch for enforcing the law.
But it’s fair to criticize Trump for enforcing the law in the most belligerent and odious way. His threatened raids targeted adults with children. Many of those children would have been separated from their parents, and some are even U.S. citizens.
The threat alone was enough to spark a small panic in immigrant communities across the country, not least because the administration has already demonstrated that it is heartless in its enforcement of immigration law. Children continue to suffer in detention centers while Trump grandstands.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, called Trump on Friday and asked him to postpone the deportation sweeps. Trump agreed, but said it was only for a couple of weeks so Congress could reform asylum laws.
Democrats insist they will not compromise on their core principles of protecting immigrants and their right to seek asylum. In other words, the same loggerheads between House Democrats and the Trump White House will not likely break now.
Maybe if the House passes some other immigration bill, such as the one that would allocate $4.5 billion for addressing the humanitarian crisis at the border, Trump could declare victory and this mess would go away.
The nation does need comprehensive immigration reform including an update to the asylum process, but that will not likely emerge in two weeks under the threat of Trump’s deportation gun.