Why you should care
Because there are lessons here.
Though fond of Game of Thrones memes, Donald Trump favors cable news over HBO and is thus unlikely to tune in tonight when the show’s final season commences. If he did, he might see a bit of himself in the show’s ruthless but troubled holders — and seekers — of the Iron Throne. For one, they’re now dealing with an open border overrun with undocumented immigrant zombies. But most of all, they find that even absolute power comes with limits.
To put it mildly, the president is frustrated with America’s immigration system. So are most people. It’s a big reason why he’s in the Oval Office.
But asylum seekers continue to show up in bigger and bigger numbers at the southern U.S. border, despite his extraordinary measures to try and add more barriers and get-tough policies like separating children from their parents or forcing families to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are pending. There’s nowhere to house them, and the legal system struggles to process them.
This week he took his rage out with the Washington equivalent of a King’s Landing wildfire bomb: He sacked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, pulled the permanent nomination of acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement head Ronald Vitiello, removed Secret Service chief Randolph “Tex” Alles and is considering firing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service head Lee Francis Cissna. Reportedly, Trump didn’t like how Nielsen would push back against some of his more aggressive ideas, like blocking immigrants from claiming asylum.
Many of those ideas are floated and soon forgotten, used mostly to stake out a wild position and stoke outrage. Trump has proposed several times to close down the entire Mexican border, without following through. CNN and The New York Times reported Friday that Trump told the head of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, to block asylum seekers from entering the country, and promised McAleenan a pardon if he were prosecuted for breaking immigration law. But it might have been a joke.
And then there was the “sanctuary cities” plot, a cross between wild outrage-stoking, joke and clever political strategy worthy of Thrones’ Littlefinger.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Trump was considering depositing detained immigrants in the districts of his political enemies such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a kind of punishment for backing “sanctuary” jurisdictions where local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. You want ’em, you got ’em, essentially. Except the idea had been rejected twice by the Department of Homeland Security, and White House officials insisted the informal proposal was dead …
Until, that is, Trump saw it being discussed on his favorite news channels on Friday, decided it made him sound tough and tweeted his support.
....The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2019
Immigration frustrated Trump’s predecessors as well. But Trump, of course, has little interest in the grand bargain of tougher enforcement plus amnesty for those here illegally that George W. Bush and Barack Obama worked on but Congress wouldn’t pass. And Congress has little interest in passing anything of substance on the subject anyway.
So this is what we’ve got for the next two years. Trump will exert what power he can to boot people out and prevent them from coming — from the Department of Justice proposal to allow individual immigration judges to issue binding rulings faster, to court crusades for policies like remain-in-Mexico. The point is for him to run for re-election as, first and foremost, a protector of the realm.