August 23, 2019
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Immigration officials can’t wish away Trump’s motive

J. Scott Applewhite | AP
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, listen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting, on Capitol Hill on Feb. 26. In a tweet this weekend, President Donald Trump told the three representatives, who were born in America, to “go back” where they came from.

Ken Cuccinelli must be grateful for his social safety net. No, not the social safety net for poor Americans that Cuccinelli’s fellow Republicans have been trying to slash for years. Cuccinelli is benefiting from the Trump GOP’s safety net: Thanks to a loophole and a few feisty cable news hits, a failed gubernatorial candidate and failed foe of same-sex rights is now the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. What a country!

Not surprisingly, the White House deployed Cuccinelli on two Sunday talk shows to defend conditions in migrant detention centers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s preannounced deportation raids in cities across the country. Like other administration officials, Cuccinelli blamed Congress for the conditions on the border, even though there is no excuse for the U.S. government holding hundreds of people for weeks without basic amenities. (It was telling that when Vice President Mike Pence visited one such decrepit holding center Friday, he stayed for only a moment before leaving.) Cuccinelli also refused to promise that any children picked up in raids, including U.S. citizens, would not separated from their parents — all but admitting that we’ll see more of that particular horror.

Then, toward the end of Cuccinelli’s interview on CNN, host Jake Tapper brought up the central contradiction between the two policies Cuccinelli was defending: “If you have such overcrowding in ICE facilities, you’re about to do a raid on 2,000 individuals. Do you have the beds for them? Because you’re not going to be able to pick them up and send them back to Guatemala.”

“ICE is prepared for that,” said Cuccinelli. “There is processing involved,” he continued, “but a lot of that is prepared for on the front end. ICE plans these things superbly.” But if ICE plans these things superbly, why is there such overcrowding in the first place?

If ICE can make space for 2,000 more individuals — most of whom, Cuccinelli claims, will be dangerous — then why haven’t ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol done so already to alleviate overcrowding? If, on the other hand, conditions are unavoidably terrible, why is the Trump administration voluntarily adding to the problem with these raids?

The truth, of course, is that these deliberately well-publicized raids and the horrible detention conditions do have a common motive, and it’s the same motive that underlies the president telling brown-skin congresswomen to “go back” to the “places from which they came.” This president wants his base to see him treating nonwhite people harshly. Detainees who crossed a border in search of a better life treated worse than death row inmates? Good. Children separated from their mothers and fathers? Well, the parents shouldn’t have brought the kids. Hundreds of American citizens swept up just because ICE mistook them for undocumented immigrants? That’s just the cost of toughness.

Even now, there are parts of the media that still shy away from calling out this president’s prejudices, even as they power his White House’s policy. But the fact remains: The president is a racist, and his administration is enacting racist policies. That won’t change as long as this president is in office.

James Downie is The Washington Post’s digital opinions editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.



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