Opinion: Trump Immigration Policy Is a Reality Horror Show

In Donald Trump’s world, immigrants provide two essential services:  as free or nearly free labor and as a political piñata.

Of the long list of people and groups of people Trump hates, immigrants have had the most exposure to Trump’s authoritarian aspirations.

By his own admission, Trump’s immigration “policy” is about deterring asylum-seekers in particular because in Trump’s world, asylum is just a con-job. But the horrors are not limited to asylum seekers, as we see due process under attack in immigration courts. This should matter to every American, because once due process is weakened for one group of people, the precedent is there to weaken them for everyone else.

I can only say thank God that when my mother was a refugee in World War II she was greeted by a more compassionate government in a more humane country than the one Trump is trying to create.  Still, when I look at Trump’s horrific and dehumanizing immigration policies, it feels personal.

Just this past week, we learned about the result of Trump’s efforts to criminalize asylum. Migrants being “warehoused” in a garage  and under a bridge  because the influx is well beyond the ability to provide acceptable shelter.

The images of children behind barbed wire, in cages, and in prison speak more to the barbarity of Trump’s immigration policy than words can adequately describe.

Despite that and Trump’s hate inciting rhetoric about anyone who isn’t white, who wasn’t born here, or both, people from Central America would prefer everything he can dish out over what they left.  Trump’s policies designed to terrorize and deter are an abject failure, as more people are crossing the southern border than for quite some time.

And newsflash, Mr. President:  even if you could close the border this week  — which you can’t — and even if you could get someone to throw money away on your vanity wall, neither of these will stop people from seeking asylum.  Moreover, threatening to cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will only make the problem you created worse.

You’ll never know the horrors these people experienced at the hands of their own government and to some degree as a result of U.S. policy.  Thankfully neither do I.

In the case of parents, it’s selflessness – a concept you’ll never understand – that drives them to endure that long journey and every cheap, inhumane jab you can dish out.  Parents do this in an attempt to take their children to safety from something far more traumatic than transferring from one private school to another in the middle of the school year.  As someone who dishonestly blames parents for the neglect by his own agencies that resulted in deaths, you wouldn’t know courage if it served you a big Mac.

The story of one of Donald Trump’s employees  being deported to Romania shows that regardless of legal status, immigrants’ legal rights are under constant assault.  He is being deported because decades ago he was convicted of a crime in absentia.

It’s a sad statement not only because of how Trump can so easily dispense with loyal employees, but also because America used to frown on the violation of a most basic right known in every democratic country: the right to be tried in person and to put on a defense.

It’s a long standing principle under our law, as reflected in an 1884 ruling by the Supreme Court and reiterated by an Arizona court in 2004.

In Hopt v. Utah  the Supreme Court said,

“The legislature has deemed it essential to the protection of one whose life or liberty is involved in a prosecution for felony, that he shall be personally present at the trial, that is, at every stage of the trial when his substantial rights may be affected by the proceedings against him. If he be deprived of his life or liberty without being so present, such deprivation would be without that due process of law required by the Constitution.”

In the 2004 ruling in State v. Whitley,  the Arizona Court of appeals held:

“A voluntary waiver of the right to be present requires true freedom of choice. A trial court may infer that a defendant’s absence from trial is voluntary and constitutes a waiver if a defendant had personal knowledge of the time of the proceeding, the right to be present, and had received a warning that the proceeding would take place in their absence if they failed to appear.” (My bold italics)

Things were bad enough before Trump, with a broken immigration system and the elimination of legal rights for immigrants in general. Other rights like the right to counsel  and children having an adult represent their rights did not apply before Trump took a sledge hammer to immigration policy. Before Trump, children were left to defend themselves in court proceedings about concepts they don’t understand in a language they don’t speak.   But now, the numbers make it impossible for the media and our collective conscience to ignore.

Aside from all this, Trump’s Secretary of DHS is seeking broad new powers to eliminate due process for children designated as unaccompanied, be it a matter of fact or a result of Trump’s family separation policy.

When someone seeks asylum, they are exercising a human right – which means all of this, as it pertains to people seeking asylum, is breaking the law. Trump’s proposals to have people seek asylum in their home country, or wait in Mexico for years, as their application gets more vetting than people entrusted with state secrets get, are idiotic.

Clearly he doesn’t understand what seeking asylum is.  But requiring that asylum be sought in a dangerous home country is akin to a Muslim going on bended knee to Donald Trump and asking for his acceptance.  And with all due respect to Mexico, the objective of asylum is defeated when people are expected to await processing in places where going about day-to-day life is taking your life in your hands.

There are alternatives, like continuing to invest in fixing these countries and we could allow people to seek asylum at US consulates, which in legal terms, are US territory within their country of origin.

But, Trump isn’t interested in making things better – least of all for people who don’t look like him.

Trump’s horror show immigration policy is destroying families  and traumatizing children for life. So far, we know of two children  seven-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo, and one adult who died in US border control custody.  According to the autopsy, Jakelin Maquin died of a bacterial infection, not as Trump deceptively claims: a result of dehydration or other neglect by her father.  Her death could have been prevented had ICE recognized she was a human being and afforded her the dignity and respect every human is entitled to.

Many thousands of children have been permanently traumatized as a direct result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy – a system that was introduced by the Trump DHS by choice.  Experts say, the trauma has permanently damaged these children whose only “crime” was being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s worth noting that there are two ways children can become “unaccompanied,” meaning without an adult.  They might have made the journey themselves.  Or, they may have been separated from their parent(s) by US border officials under the Trump administration’s family separation policy.  If a child is “unaccompanied,” it means they need a guardian to make basic legal decisions, including those involving their asylum claims.  The Trump policy of putting children in cages was, again, about deterrence.  The only thing it accomplished was traumatized children.

The bad press for Trump and his DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, has been ongoing, like a steady drum beat in the background of ongoing drama and chaos in the Trump administration.  But it’s enough for them to come up with a public relations fix:  denying “unaccompanied” children due process.  Just send them back to a danger that could make surviving to adulthood a pipe dream.

From Kirsten Neilson’s perspective, all this due process stuff is so inefficient.  Wouldn’t it be better if we just sent them back to whatever danger they escaped?

This is not an America I recognize.  I firmly believe most of us are better than this.  But, I also recognize that the people in charge, at this time, are not.