What Happens When Federal Policies Are Based on Lies

By now it has been pretty well established that Donald Trump lies…a lot. He began his campaign for the presidency with one of the biggest whoppers when he suggested that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has continued the lie that immigrants are criminals who take jobs away from “real Americans” and soak up federal dollars in education, health and welfare programs.

As an example of how this administration constantly lies about immigrants, take a look at this tidbit from the Washington Post:

When President Trump’s advisers were writing a report on terrorism earlier this year, [Stephen] Miller had a suggestion. Language saying that children of foreign-born nationalists were more likely than non-foreign born nationals to commit acts of terrorism should be inserted into the report and the accompanying press materials, according to three people with knowledge of his wishes.

That’s from a story about DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who vetoed inclusion of that language because it had no basis in actual facts. Score one small victory for the truth!

I say all of that because this administration’s entire approach to immigration is based on a lie. So it should come as no surprise that, as the Post reports, Trump is frustrated that his demands to close the border aren’t actually happening. He is blaming Nielsen for a rise in border apprehensions this spring. Apparently she’s not “tough enough” because she at least minimally follows the law and hasn’t gotten him that damn border wall.

The truth is that Nielsen has started prosecuting migrants as criminals, even though the offense is a misdemeanor. As a result, DHS is now detaining adults and separating them from their children. Recently we learned that, in the process, they have lost track of nearly 1,500 children, “raising concerns they could end up in the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives.” But all of that isn’t “tough enough” for Trump.

I have no sympathies for Nielsen at this point, but this is what happens when federal policy is based on a lie. Here is why the number of border crossings has gone up recently:

Trump has been in no mood to hear that migration patterns have returned to historic, seasonal norms this spring, a trend occurring in part because the American economy is buzzing and U.S. farms, factories and businesses are desperate for workers.

Rational people recognize that the first step to solving a problem is to understand why it exists in the first place. Trump and the people who work for him aren’t interested in doing that. Undergirding all of the lies that are driving their approach is racism and the way that animates the president’s base. Take a look at how that played out in this exchange:

The night before Trump delivered his first speech to Congress in February 2017, he huddled with Jared Kushner and Miller in the Oval Office to talk immigration. The president reluctantly agreed with suggestions he strike a gentler tone on immigration in the speech.

Trump reminded them the crowds loved his rhetoric on immigrants along the campaign trail. Acting as if he was at a rally, he then read aloud a few made up Hispanic names and described potential crimes they could have committed, like rape or murder. Then, he said, the crowds would roar when the criminals were thrown out of the country — as they did when he highlighted crimes by illegal immigrants at his rallies, according to a person present for the exchange and another briefed on it later. Miller and Kushner laughed.

Trump is very aware that the bond between he and the adoring crowds at his rallies is racism.

The clash between the president and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as described by the Post has nothing to do with challenging the racism behind the lies. It is simply a difference about whether to take a “trench warfare” or “shock and awe” approach.

Mark Kirkorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, the Washington think tank whose ideas about the benefits of restricting immigration have broad influence in the administration, said Trump wants Nielsen to deliver a crackdown that looks like “the Iraq War.”

“He wants to do Shock and Awe,” said Kirkorian. “He doesn’t realize this is World War I. It’s trench warfare.”

Based on all of that, we can safely predict that it won’t be long before Nielsen is out. Trump is obviously blaming her for the fact that federal policies based on lies are doomed to fail. His hunt for the next DHS Secretary will be to find someone who can implement “shock and awe” on the border. In other words, this is only going to get worse.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.