Why you should care
Because this issue could split two pillars of Donald Trump’s base.
Jacob Monty believed in Donald Trump for a brief moment in the summer of 2016. A Houston-based immigration lawyer, Monty describes himself as both a staunch Republican and a Latino activist, which he admits “sounds like an oxymoron nowadays.” But he signed on to candidate Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council and raised money for him because Monty believed that the harsh-talking candidate could actually break the immigration stalemate, Nixon-goes-to-China style. An in-person meeting with Trump left a positive impression, but Trump’s August 2016 anti-immigrant rant on stage in Phoenix led to Monty’s about-face; he disavowed his party’s nominee. But even now, Monty has some hope in the president, if not those around him.
“This is an area where, if you let Trump be Trump, he does the right thing for the country and for immigrants,” Monty says. “But which Donald Trump are we going to see?” he asks aloud. What we’re seeing now is the long-held dream of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his aide turned White House policy adviser Stephen Miller: a hardline enforcement stance. But it’s hard enough to risk alienating the important pillar of Trump’s coalition — the Christian right.
Federal authorities reportedly took away one woman’s baby daughter while she was breastfeeding as she was awaiting prosecution for entering illegally.
No, there are not children in cages at the border. Yes, President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security lost track of immigrant children too. Yes, illegal crossings are down from previous years. But Trump’s new policy of holding and prosecuting every single person who enters illegally, coupled with this week’s Sessions declaration that gang violence and domestic violence no longer are valid reasons to claim asylum, add up to the ugly stories now coming from the border. Federal authorities reportedly took away one woman’s baby daughter while she was breastfeeding as she was awaiting prosecution for entering illegally. When she resisted, she was handcuffed, her attorney told CNN.
The zero-tolerance policy is cramming courts and detention centers in South Texas. McClatchy reported that the U.S. military is considering erecting tent cities to house the immigrants. A Walmart in Brownsville was converted under the Obama administration to house boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who came across the border during the surge of unaccompanied minors several years ago. Now it has enough capacity for 1,500 boys.
While Obama avoided deporting immigrants not accused of other crimes, the Trump administration has cracked down nationwide — from a pizza delivery man in New York to a doctor in Michigan. The Washington Post reported that Homeland Security officials are reviewing fingerprints from the 1990s, comparing prints to those who applied for legal residency more recently to see if any falsified information on their forms. Those who did could be “denaturalized.” There are no easy answers to illegal immigration, and Sessions argues that he’s finally enforcing the law and that tough policies are a necessary deterrent to future migrants.
Workers worried about the impact of immigrants on the economy and just plain racists were a big part of Trump’s winning hand in 2016, but so too was the Christian right. Many of these religious voters were unnerved by Trump’s personal morality but pleased with his commitment to cultural conservatism on abortion and other issues.
When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with its heavily Latino congregants, called the new asylum rules “immoral,” it was noteworthy, albeit not surprising. But when the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution this week calling for immigration reform that includes a pathway to legal status — even as Vice President Mike Pence addressed the group’s annual meeting — it was striking. “God commands His people to treat immigrants with the same respect and dignity as those native born,” the resolution read.
Will this religious revival put pressure on Trump to change course? Misleading statements blaming family separations on Democrats show how he is unwilling to own the policies that led to the heartrending stories coming from the border. Breastfeeding moms aren’t the MS-13 gang “animals” Trump says he’s trying to keep out. Going soft now on a crucial issue to much of his base, a principle he’s espoused since first descending the Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign three years ago, would be a stunning move. But hey, he changed his mind on Kim Jong Un.