Trump’s legally questionable, ill-advised, and cruel attacks on refugees

Trump’s legally questionable, ill-advised, and cruel attacks on refugees
Bob Sheak – July 12, 2018

The displacement of people from their homes and communities is a worldwide problem, one that is growing in scope and likely to continue disrupting the lives of many millions of people so long as current political, economic, and environmental trends continue. In an article for The Nation magazine (July 16, 2018, p. 23), Madeline Rose offers this unsettling summary of current evidence.

“Today we face a global humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Almost 66 million people are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displace, or stateless. Conflicts rage from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan. Over the past 15 years, 3.3 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – have been exposed to political violence. And still darker clouds loom on the horizon. By 2050 a total of 1 billion people could be displaced by climate change, while 40 percent of the world’s population could suffer from water shortages. Inequality, population growth, and corruption add to the complexity, with the poorest of the poor increasingly left behind” (The Nation, July 16, p. 23).

Lauren Markham cites “global relief agencies” which estimate there are presently “over 68 million people worldwide [who] have been forced to flee their homes because of war, poverty and political persecution” ( Markham also points to the effects of climate change on forced immigration and writes:

“As a writer, I focus largely on issues of forced migration. The hundreds of migrants I’ve interviewed in the past few years — whether from Gambia, Pakistan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Yemen or Eritrea — are most often leaving because of some acute political problem at home. But I’ve also noticed something else in my years of reporting. If you talk to these migrants long enough, you’ll hear about another, more subtle but still profound dimension to the problems they are leaving behind: environmental degradation or climate change.

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that since 2008, 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate-related or extreme weather events. This includes tragedies like the widespread famine in Darfur, monsoons and flooding in Bangladesh and the catastrophic hurricane in Puerto Rico. The more out of whack our climate becomes, the more people up and leave their homes. As our world heats up and sea levels rise, the problem of forced migration around the world is projected to become far worse.” ….

“Many things are exacerbating the effects of the drought in Central America, including pervasive deforestation and farmers overtaxing their land. But according to Climatelinks, a project of the United States Agency for International Development, the average temperature in El Salvador has risen 2.34 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s, and droughts have become longer and more intense. The sea has risen by three inches since the 1950s and is projected to rise seven more by 2050. Between 2000 and 2009, 39 hurricanes hit El Salvador, compared with 15 in the 1980s. This, too, is predicted to get worse.”

Aside from climate, the number of refugees worldwide has been climbing for a host of seemingly unstoppable reasons presently. At the same time, compounding the problem, there is a trend unfolding in which more and more governments in Europe and other “high income” countries are closing their borders to refugees and introducing more stringent overall immigration policies. Writing in Foreign Policy in Review (June 20, 2018), John Feffer reports that the “world is experiencing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. There are 22.5 million people who have fled their countries to seek refuge elsewhere. In 2016, a mere 189,000 were resettled” (

Where do they go?

In the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Africa, most refugees end up remaining in their home country and are referred to as internally displaced people. Or they flee to a nearby country, sometimes referred to as a “haven” country, where they typically end up in camps set up for migrants or in cities where they struggle on the margins of the economy and with little help from the host country. Alexander Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, and Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford University, analyze the refuge crisis comprehensively in their book, Refugee: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World. They illustrate the point about “haven” countries and extensive documentation on all aspects of the refugee problem.

Countries such as Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo did not become haven countries because, as Betts and Collier put it, they did not put up ‘welcome’ signs at railway stations. They became haven countries by default; refugees flocked to them because they were close by” (p. 31).

Also: “…fewer than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees get access to resettlement in third country beyond their regions of origin” (p. 49).

Many refugees would like to go to the richer countries in Europe, though Europe is becoming less welcoming. Betts and Collier point out this: “While the refugee issue shot up to the top of the European agenda, its content was all about Europe rather than about refugees. Which country should accept how many refugees; which country was closing its borders; what should be expected of those refugees in Europe; which European politicians should be taking which decisions. Syrian refugees themselves [which represent the largest number of all refugees] suffered the neglect of the heartless head. While a small minority reached Germany, the vast majority remained in the neighbouring havens, where they received little international support” (p. 93).

Most countries, whatever their level of economic prosperity, do not usually permit refugees to work. So, refugees are typically forced into the “informal” (i.e., unregulated, low-wage, irregular) economy just to get by. Again, here is what Bett’s and Collier’s research indicates.“Of 500,000 refugees who arrived in Germany able to work in 2015, just 8 percent were employed by mid-2016…” (p. 123)

Most refuges do not make it to Europe but remain “internally displaced” in their own countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria) and in nearby countries (e.g., Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya and other less-than-rich countries). There they end up stranded in refugee camps. Here’s an example of perhaps the largest refugee camp in the world from Betts and Collier’s book.

“In Kenya…the Dadaab refugee camps were created in 1993 to host the mass influx of Somali refugees who arrived following the outbreak of the country’s civil war in 1991. The cluster of three camps were designed with a maximum capacity of 120,000 people, but in 2011 the combined populations swelled to hose over 500,000 Somali refugees and today it hosts over 300,000 in dire conditions, after some went home or moved onwards. The camps are located in the remote border region of the North Eastern Province and are the subject of violent cross-border incursions from warring factions and terrorist groups operating in Somalia. Concerned with security and competition for resources, the government has adopted a strict encampment policy, generally requiring Somalis to remain in the camps and denying them access to the formal economy. The international community provided seemingly indefinite humanitarian assistance, which was inevitably inadequate. A funding model based on short-term emergency response is being used to pay for permanent needs” (p. 53).

Betts and Collier propose solutions based on their analysis.

“At the heart of our approach is the creation of safe havens in the countries of the developing world that neighbor conflict and crisis [e.g., Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan]. This is because it is where the overwhelming majority of refugees are, because remaining there creates the greater likelihood that people will ultimately go back and rebuild their own countries, and because it offers a far more efficient and sustainable way to allocate scarce resources” (p. 234).

But there are a number of challenging preconditions that must fall in place for there to be better options for refugees. Better and Collier propose:
“…new forms of partnerships are needed [among donor nations themselves and including the business communities]. Donors have to be prepared to commit the resources needed to address haven countries’ concerns relating to refugees’ right to work. They need to open up their markets in order to entice businesses to invest [in haven countries]. Business investment has a central role to play. And new organizational models are need to economically and politically to facilitate these partnerships.”

It is good that there are expert analysts, humanitarian organizations, U.N. agencies, and government officials collecting and analyzing information on refugees. They document the complexities and enormous challenges of the growing refugee crisis and make proposals that, if ever implemented, would ameliorate the situations that generate refugees. But, unfortunately, the conditions that spawn growing waves of refugees remain festering and intensifying. Thus, the refugee population worldwide grows as a result of various combinations of violent conflicts in the shape of war, civil war, terrorist encroachment (and the plentiful availability of weapons), environmental degradation (e.g., growing scarcity of clean potable water), unsustainable living conditions, weak and ineffective states, foreign interests controlling vital resources for profit (e.g., oil, lumber, diamonds, land for growing food to export), weak international humanitarian or economic development assistance, and the absence of women’s rights. And the governments in high-income nations are not only unwilling to provide adequate economic assistance but they are now, increasingly, focusing on how to keep refugees from coming into their countries.

The growing refugee crises are but one manifestation of patterns in which national governments increasingly prioritize their own interests in a world of declining resources, intensifying international competition, and soaring inequality, and where increasingly powerful economic and political elites advance their own self-serving interests at the expense of others. Certainly, refugees don’t figure in their calculations and plans. Rather they are viewed, as Trump appears to view refugees, as people who are of little worth, who are said to be responsible for their own plight, who can be considered expendable or, in some cases, politically useful as scapegoats.

U.S. immigration policy lurching rightward with some exceptions

The focus of U.S. immigration policy has changed with circumstances historically.

Examples of Immigration policies during the Obama years

In recent years, Obama’s policies were more supportive of increasing the number of refugees permitted to be resettled in the U.S. Obama also and in extended the stay of unauthorized youth who were brought to this country by their parents illegally and who have lived in the U.S. for many years. Obama increased the number of refugees to be permitted resettlement in the country from 85,000 in FY 2016 to 110,000 in FY 2017. He also announced the creation of the program titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on June 15, 2012, “and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications for the program on August 15, 2012”. It’s a program, according to Wikipedia, “that allows some individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. (

Here is more from Wikipedia on what next transpired.

“As of June 2016, USCIS had received 844,931 initial applications for DACA status, of which 741,546 (88%) were approved, 60,269 (7%) were denied, and 43,121 (5%) were pending. Over half of those accepted reside in California and Texas.[27] According to an August 2017 survey, most current registrants (called “Dreamers” in a reference to the DREAM Act bill) are in their 20s, and about 80% arrived in the United States when they were 10 or younger.[28]

“In November 2014, Obama announced his intention to expand DACA to make more people eligible.[29][30] However, in December 2014, Texas and 25 other states, all with Republican governors, sued the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas asking the court to enjoin implementation of both the DACA expansion and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans,(a similar program).[31][32][33] In February 2015, Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued a preliminary injunction blocking the expansion from going into effect while the case, Texas v. United States, proceeded.[34][35] After progressing through the court system, an equally divided (4–4) Supreme Court left the injunction in place, without setting any precedent.[36]

DACA produced good results. Here is Wikipedia’s summary.

“Research has shown that DACA increased the wages and labor force participation of DACA-eligible immigrants[7][8][9] and reduced the number of illegal immigrant households living in poverty.[10] Studies have also shown that DACA increased the mental health outcomes for DACA-eligible immigrants and their children.[11][12][13] There are no known major adverse impacts from DACA on native-born workers’ employment, and most economists say that DACA benefits the U.S. economy.[14][15][16] To be eligible for the program, recipients cannot have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records. There is no evidence that individuals covered by DACA are more likely to commit crimes than the general population of the United States.[17]

At the same time, Obama deported a record number of undocumented people during his time in office. Reporting for the New York Daily News, Meg Wagner reports that there were more deportations of unauthorized people during President Obama’s time in office than under any other president (

She gives the following example.

“Between 2009 and 2014, 2.4 million people were deported from the U.S., according to a Pew Research data analysis released Wednesday.
While full data from 2015 and 2016 isn’t available, if those years keep pace with previous ones, about 3.2 million people will have been deported under the Obama administration.

“Under the previous Bush administration, about 2 million people were deported between 2001 and 2008.”

Trump’s immigration policy goals

Trump aims to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, institute harsh measures for detaining those who are caught trying to enter the country illegally, separating children from parents, more aggressively removing an increasing number of undocumented people already living in the U.S., and attempting to end DACA unless other restrictive parts of his immigration agenda are accepted by the Democrats in the U.S. Congress. There are other policies advanced by Trump that I won’t examine in this post, such as the travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries, a ban that has just been upheld by a recent Supreme Court decision. I also don’t go into the huge issue of how the Trump administration is increasing efforts to remove as many of the 11 million unauthorized persons who already reside in the U.S. as it can. There have been informative articles published in the New York Times on this population, their demographic characteristics, how they gained entrance (e.g., overstayed their visas) where there are located, how long they have been here. The focus here is largely on Trump’s policies concerning refuges arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Some definitions and the normal but corrupted process for getting asylum in the U.S.

When is someone a refugee?

What’s the difference between refugees and asylum seekers? According to Jie Zong and Jeanee Batalova of the Migration Policy Institute, “refugees are usually outside of the United States when they are screened for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while they are physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. They “also differ in admissions process used and agency responsible for reviewing their application.” But they are similar in that they “are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution” (

I’ll use the terms interchangeably. In a sense, refugees come in two categories, those attempting to enter the U.S. through legal channels and those who, perhaps kept from entering legally or trying to skirt border security, try to enter the country illegally. Under the current Trump immigration policy, there appears to be an attempt to keep all refugees out of the country, whether they are attempting to go through legal channels or not.

Limiting who can qualify as a legitimate refugee

One of the issues raised by the Trump administrators is over what “persecution” Means. Currently, the U.S. government rejects the idea that fleeing from gang violence or domestic abuse/violence fits what they define as persecution, and therefore do not require the government to allow for their resettlement in the U.S. John Feffer reports on this in early June at

“The Justice Department announced… that asylum-seekers couldn’t claim gang warfare or domestic violence as reasons to stay in the United States. This comes at a time when displacement because of violence is climbing rapidly in Central America, a trend affecting 16 times more people at the end of 2017 than in 2011. Indeed, many of the people desperately trying to get across the U.S. border, including unaccompanied minors, are escaping not just general violence but very specific death threats.”

In these cases, refugees would only be able to enter the country illegally.

The “normal” process for being allowed to resettle in the U.S. is now being diminished

Immigration lawyer Jennifer Harbury, interviewed on Democracy Now, describes the process for legal resettlement into the U.S, pointing out that the U.S. is a party to various treaties on refugees (

Here is what she next said.

“…under 8 U.S.C. 1225, [a person] goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, ‘I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.’ And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview [no criminal record] and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge. The way – the norm that has always been in place for either group of people, whether they went by the river or went across the bridge – is that if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR [legal permanent resident of the U.S.], who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses.”

At that point in the process, a person or parent and children would pre-Trump have “always been released” on conditional approval of resettlement. Zong and Batalova point out, “Once granted U.S. protection, refugees and asylees are authorized to work and may also qualify for assistance (including cash and medical, housing, educational, and vocational services) to facilitate their economic and social integration into society.”

Trump makes it worse

This has changed under Trump. Even if a person asks for asylum and passes the credible fear test and other administrative hurdles, she/he and children are being detained, and, for a time, children were separated from their parents. Now, after massive outrage and a federal court ruling, Trump has ended the separation rule, but his administration is now enmeshed in further problems. They don’t have good information on the whereabouts of all the parents and children so they can be reunited, and they are facing legal challenges on how long children who have been reunited with their parents can be detained. I’ll have more to say about these unfolding issues below in this post.

Consider the general trend of refugees seeking resettlement in the U.S.
“After the most recent peak of 142,000 refugees admitted for resettlement in 1993 (largely in response to the Balkan wars), the annual admission ceiling steadily declined. In 2008, the ceiling was raised by 10,000 to accommodate an expected increase in refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Bhutan. From 2008 to 2011, the annual ceiling remained at 80,000; it was reduced to 76,000 in 2012, and further reduced to 70,000 in 2013, where it remained until 2016.”

“The Obama administration’s increase to 85,000 resettlement places for FY2016 and 110,000 for FY2017 marked the largest yearly increases in refugee admissions since 1990. The proposed ceiling for FY2017 would include 40,000 resettlement places for refugees from the Near East and South Asia (up 4,000 from 2016), 12,000 from East Asia (down 1000); 35,000 from Africa (up 10,000); 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean (up 2,000); and 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia (no change). The unallocated reserve also increased from 6,000 in 2016 to 14,000 in 2017.”

Avoiding the legal entry process

Those seeking entrance into the U.S. may try to avoid the whole process and, often with the help of a paid coyote, navigate their way into the U.S. illegally. Indeed, according to a report by Marcia Aleman and Joshua Goodman in USA Today (June 21, 2018). “The number of families entering the U.S. illegally at the southwest border jumped six-fold in May to 9,485 compared with the same month in 2017. Since October, more than 58,000 have arrived, the bulk from Guatemala, followed by Honduras and El Salvador.” In addition, the flow of drugs across the board, even under Trump, appears to be undiminished.
Christopher Woody finds evidence on how Trump’s immigration policies are missing most of the drug smuggling (

One challenge for U.S. border security is that there are 48 official land crossings along the Mexico-U.S. border, and millions of people, vehicles and cargo pass through them every day. Amidst this immense traffic, Woody reports that border agents say they are “undermanned and, at times overwhelmed by the traffic” at their checkpoints and often have less than ten seconds to decide which vehicles shout be referred for further inspection. The highly stressful work has made it difficult for Customs and Border Protection fill positions vacated by retirement or quitting. The drug cartels are well organized, often with transnational ties, can use private planes to cross the border, have passengers or crew on commercial planes carry the drugs, or us parcel services for some types of drugs. Trump’s “wall,” remote video surveillance, and ground sensors may help to stem somewhat the tide of those who attempt to carry or drive the drugs on backroads across the border, but his current preoccupation with refugees seems to miss the drug issue.

Why do the refugees from Central America keep making the trek to the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes to being resettled in the U.S.?

While most want work and a better life, this is not the principal reason for the costly and dangerous trek from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries, known as “the Northern Triangle of Central America” and the biggest source of refugees arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The principal reason is, as Pitt describes it, “[t]hey are trying not to die.” Rocio Cara Labrador and Danielle Renwick identify the causes in an article for The Council on Foreign Relations (

Echoing Pitt, their central point is that refugees from these countries are fleeing “violence and fragile institutions.” Migrants from these countries “cite violence, forced gang recruitment, and extortion, as well as poverty and the lack of opportunity, as their reasons for leaving.” And “the region remains menaced by corruption, drug trafficking, and gang violence despite tough police and judicial reforms” and despite billions of dollars in aid from the United States over the past decade. These countries “consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world.”

The chaos in these countries has its roots in decades of war in the region, described as follows by Labrador and Renwick.

“In El Salvador, fighting between the military-led government and leftist guerrilla groups (1979-92) left as many as seventy-five thousand dead, and Guatemala’s civil war (1960-96) killed as many as two hundred thousand civilians. Honduras did not have a civil war of its own, but nonetheless felt the effect of nearby conflicts; it served as a staging ground for the U.S.-backed Contras, a right-wing rebel group fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s.

“At war’s end, a large pool of demobilized and unemployed men with easy access to weapons morphed into organized criminal groups, most notably in El Salvador. In Guatemala, groups known as illegal clandestine security apparatuses and clandestine security apparatuses grew out of the state intelligence and military forces.”

There are now a plethora of criminal groups in all three countries.

“Criminal groups in the Northern Triangle include transnational criminal organizations, many of which are associated with Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs); domestic organized-crime groups; transnational gangs, or maras, such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18); and pandillas, or street gangs.”

Labrador and Renwick note that “90 percent of documented cocaine flows into the United States now pass through the region.”

With respect to extortion,

“A 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensa found that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million, $200 million, and $61 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods…and attacks on people who do not pay contribute to violence.”

Along with drug trafficking and extortion, “criminal groups in the region also profit from kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking and smuggling.”

On top of it all, the governments are weak and marked by extensive corruption. There are weak partly because tax revenues in the three countries are among the lowest in Latin America. With the respect to corruption, Transparency International, “a global anticorruption watchdog, documents that “all three countries [are] in the bottom half of its corruption perceptions rankings.” Most crimes go unpunished in many areas.

In short, we can expect the flow of refugees from these countries to continue, unless somehow the causes are effectively addressed. Trump pays no attention to the causes.

Trump and his administration are doing their utmost to keep most refugees out

Trump made the issues of immigration reduction and border security two of his main messages during his campaign for the presidency. His promises resonated with his supporters and was one of the main reasons for his success in his election. Elaine Kamarck and Christine Stenglein provide evidence from polls that show that Trump supporters mentioned Trump’s immigration policies as the most frequent reason they voted for him (

In one of many moves to reduce the number of emigrants entering the country, legally or otherwise, the Trump administration announced early in 2017 that the number of refugee admissions would be limited to 45,000, a ceiling that is the lowest since 1980 (John Feffer,

Why Trump’s anti-immigration policies appeal to so many Americans?

In the United States, a growing number of people are understandably focused on their own precarious situations and are concerned that refugees pose threats to their jobs, that many refugees are criminals, welfare cheats, and, for the white-supremacists and hyper-nationalists among the right-wing anti-immigrants forces, they are not white. Many citizens are manipulated by a duplicitous president and other right-wing political voices that endlessly repeat these claims, as they scapegoat immigrants for allegedly taking jobs from American, for not speaking English, for not being Christians, for being free-riders on welfare, and for simply being “different.”

In this situation, some interests in the U.S. clearly benefit from the chaotic immigration/refugee policy of the Trump administration. Political and economic elites and various business interests benefit from Trump’s well publicized efforts to tighten immigration policies and practices that have yet to prove to be effective. Many sectors of the U.S. economy continue to employ undocumented workers. The elites also benefit as many millions of citizens are distracted by the demeaning and fear-generating portrayals of refugees, while the profits from setting up detention facilities and from a continuing flow of vulnerable immigrant workers continues. They benefit as well because the public attention on other issues (e.g., rising inequality, stagnating wages) are given less emphasis.

Are the anti-immigrant/refugee claims valid?

There is substantial evidence refuting the anti-immigrant claims. Karmack and Stenglein (cited above) review the evidence. They find little support for the claim that immigrants commit a lot of crime. For example, they present graphic evidence that from 2002 to 2016, only 1.7 percent of all immigrants who were deported were charged with aggravated felony,” that is, for such crimes as rape and murder. They also cite evidence from research by the Cato Institute, which found that between 1975 and 2015, terrorists killed 3,423 people in the U.S. Most of these acts were caused by visitors (e.g., from Saudi Arabia), not refugees from Mexico or Central America – and “that the risk of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist incident is 1 in 3.6 billion per year.”

Trump railed in July 2015 that “They’re taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs.” In an article for The Brookings Institute, Brennan Hoban notes that as much as anything else Trump focused on the jobs’ issue in his anti-immigration speeches. He claimed that immigrants take jobs away from American workers and are generally bad for the U.S. economy. Trump’s solution was to stop them from entering the U.S. and that this “will help improve the U.S. economy and job market” ( Hoban refers to research by Brookings Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown that finds “undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do.” He elaborates on what she uncovered.

“Felbab-Brown explains that many of the jobs occupied by undocumented workers in the United States are physically demanding jobs that Americans do not want, such as gutting fish or work on farm fields. She argues, ‘fixing immigration is not about mass deportations of people but about creating a legal visa system for jobs Americans do not want. And it is about providing better education opportunities, skills-development and retooling, and safety nets for American workers. And to date, Trump hasn’t offered serious policy proposals on many—if any—of these areas.’”

Research by Brookings Senior Fellow Dany Bahar identifies “a positive link between immigration and economic growth,” “explaining that while immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of investors in the U.S. and that over one third of new firms have at least one immigrant entrepreneur in its initial leadership team.” Bahar draws the following conclusions: “by cutting on immigration, the country will miss an opportunity for new inventions and ventures that could generate the jobs that the president is so committed to bring back. Thus, if the current administration wants to create jobs and ‘make America great again,’ it should consider enlisting more migrants.”

There are other economic benefits that stem from immigrants. When they have paid jobs, they often pay the wage tax that finances and keep viable Social Security and Medicare. Refugees and immigrants generally help to fund these government programs at a time when, as a headline from the Columbus Dispatch indicates, “American fertility drops to record low” (July 8, 2018, pp. A17, A20). That is, there are fewer Americans paying into these funds as time passes. Immigrants help to keep them financially afloat.

William Rivers Pitt provides further examples of the benefits of immigrant labor in a Truthout article title “Capitalism, Politics and Immigration” on June 23, 2018 ( Among other evidence, Pitt refers to the views of “legendary celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

“In a blog post titled “Under the Volcano”… Bourdain also eloquently summed up these uncomfortable truths about the United States and its chaotic, cruel immigration policy as it pertains to people coming from south of the border: ‘Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children.’

“‘As any chef will tell you,’ Bourdain continued, ‘our entire service economy — the restaurant business as we know it — in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are ‘stealing American jobs.’ But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position — or even a job as prep cook.’

Pitt then refers to a Pew Research Center estimate “that some 11 percent of workers in restaurants and bars, some 1.3 million people, are undocumented. According to Pew, 19 percent of the nation’s dishwashers and 17 percent of its bussers are undocumented.” Indeed, in big cities, “labor activist Saru Jayaraman told The Washington Post, ‘you’re talking about a restaurant workforce that is maybe 75 percent foreign-born, and maybe 30 to 40 percent undocumented. The restaurant industry in major cities would absolutely collapse without immigrants.’

The same is true in the US agriculture industry, as documented by a comprehensive study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which determined: “Over the past several decades, the farming sector has grown increasingly dependent on a steady supply of workers who have entered the country illegally, despite the unlimited availability of visas for foreign agricultural guest workers.” Unfortunately, many of these vulnerable workers are exploited. Pitt points out: “If unauthorized workers were replaced by authorized workers at the higher average wage rate authorized workers currently earn, farms in the fruits, nuts, and vegetable sector would experience a total labor cost increase of 10 percent, and the increase for the field crops and grains sector would be 6 percent.

But, Pitt informs us, the “issue is not just with undocumented workers.” It also involves workers who have been granted temporary (H-1B and H-2B) visas to find seasonal employment. On this point, he writes:

“Big Ag, along with the landscaping, seafood and meat processing industries, rely heavily on workers who have been granted temporary (H-1B and H-2B) visas to find seasonal employment. Thanks to the chaotic approach to immigration reform taken by Trump and his Republican allies in Congress, compounded by a long history of failure across the political spectrum, finding enough legal temporary workers has become an entirely unreliable process, which only serves to increase dependency on undocumented labor.

Pitt draws the conclusion that U.S. immigration policy reflects the interests of capitalist employers in certain industries who want continuing access to cheap, vulnerable, easily-exploitable undocumented workers, or, it should be added, in high-tech industries where highly educated people from countries like India are in high demand, that is, where there is an insufficient supply of similarly highly trained workers. He surmises the following.

“There is far more to this ongoing mess than politically expedient racism. This is a problem created and exploited by the fundamental cruelty of capitalism. To keep profits high and prices low, major US industries like agriculture do not want undocumented workers to have a path to citizenship, as that would require paying them a living wage and even providing benefits like health insurance. That, you see, would be expensive. Simultaneously, they do not want to see the flow of undocumented workers into the country stopped, as such an act would deprive them of the huge pool of cheap labor they have come to depend on.

“Essentially, the industries making money on the backs of undocumented workers don’t want a solution to the problem, making an already complicated situation almost completely intractable. Adding to the mayhem are politicians who rail against immigrants while cashing campaign donation checks from the very entities that thrive on cheap labor.

“’Illegal immigrants are some of the most exploited workers in history,’ writes immigration activist Garrett S. Griffin. “’Capitalists can increase their profits by taking advantage of millions of people, again whether intentionally or as a natural, inadvertent consequence. Capitalism benefits from a steady flow of illegal immigrants. It is very interesting to note that in this case the ideology of anti-immigrant conservatives does not align with the interests of capitalist power.’

So, there cruel irony of Trump’s immigration policy. On the one hand, he advances his anti-immigrant policies to satisfy his populist base of support. On the other hand, immigrants, including the current waves of refugees, play an important role or potentially important role in helping some American capitalists in making profits they otherwise would not. It may be, however, that Trump has gone too far for even some of his most stout supporters by introducing an immigration policy that takes children from their parents.

Zero Tolerance

In early May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s new rule, including the requirement that refugees entering the US will have their children separated from the parent or parents until and unless they are granted asylum to resettle in the U.S.

“I have put in place a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, as required by law” (

Over the months of May and June, up to 3,000 children were separated from their parents and held in custody, according to an announcement by the Health and Human Services (HHS) administrator on July 5, 2018. Here is what Democracy Now reported.

“The Trump administration said Thursday [July 5] that it was holding ‘under 3,000’ immigrant children separated by their parents by immigration officers after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The admission by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar increased the number of separated children known to be in U.S. custody by nearly 1,000 [the early estimates was about 2,000]” (


The administration several justifications for the separation policy and for the detention of both children and parents in different facilities. Most prominently, it claims that the policy would deter refugees from coming to the U.S. Trump’s advisers believe that this policy sends a discouraging message to potential refugees, so that when emigrants hear that their children will be taken from them and they all, parent(s) and children, will be detained if they attempt to cross the border illegally, they won’t travel to the border. As it turns out, even those fleeing from persecution, war, or poverty and having an authentic claim to asylum in the U.S. are being affected by the policy of separation and detention.

Ana Campoy quotes Katharina Obser, senior policy advisor for migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, a non-profit advocacy group, who says that Trump’s policy represents something that is more cruel and inhumane than immigration policies under previous administrations (

Moreover,evidence referred earlier indicates that the flow of refugees across the U.S.-Mexico border continues in even larger numbers than before Trump took office. They continue to come seeking refuge legally or illegally because they are fleeing from violent or severely impoverished conditions that often threaten their lives.

The separation-detention policy violates a prior legal consent decree or settlement decided in 1997, titled the Flores v. Meese case. Here is a summary of the case by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

“In 1997, a California federal court approved the Flores settlement agreement that sets national policy regarding the detention, release, and treatment of children in INS custody. Many of the agreement’s terms have been codified at 8 CFR §§236.3, 1236.3. The agreement defines a juvenile as a person under the age of 18 who is not emancipated by a state court or convicted and incarcerated due to a conviction for a criminal offense as an adult. It requires that juveniles be held in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their age and special needs to ensure their protection and wellbeing. It also requires that juveniles be released from custody without unnecessary delay to a parent, legal guardian, adult relative, individual specifically designated by the parent, licensed program, or, alternatively, an adult who seeks custody who DHS deems appropriate. The Flores agreement and INS policy also mandate that ‘juveniles will not be detained with an unrelated adult for more than 24 hours.’ The Flores agreement applies to all children apprehended by DHS” (

Campoy gives another example, referring to the “asylum seekers’ right under the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause that prohibits the government from taking young children away from their parents.”

Under Trump’s policy of separation and detention, thousands of children have been detained for weeks and now months and often in the most gruesome facilities. In 2015, Campoy reports, “a federal court ruled in another case that deterrence is not a valid reason to detain immigrant families and children seeking asylum,” that is, doing it within the rules.

Trump and other administration officials offer other dubious justifications, contrary to prior law or evidence, for separation and detention

They claim that most of the refugees coming across the border a “poorly educated.” Campoy cites how Homeland Security secretary John Kelly has “suggested the reason to dissuade them from coming is that they are poorly educated and wouldn’t assimilate into the US.” On June 19, 2018, according to a report by David A. Graham in The Atlantic, Trump described unauthorized immigrants as an “infestation” and as “animals.” Graham elaborated on what these words mean.

“‘Infest’ is the essential, and new, word here. (Also popping up in the tweets is the older coded word ‘thugs.’) It drives full-throttle toward the dehumanization of immigrants, setting aside legality in favor of a division of a human us and less-human them. What are infestations? They are takeovers by vermin, rodents, insects. The word is almost exclusively used in this context. What does one do with an infestation? Why, one exterminates it, of course” (

And they administration invokes the claim that many or most immigrant parents have criminal records. Campoy quotes a segment of an interview that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen did on NPR. Nielsen contends, ignoring the Flores settlement, that many of the separated children are taken from parents who had criminal records.

There is at least one other justification for the separation and detention policy, that is, the administration’s assumption that, according to Keven Applyby, a senior director at the Center for Migration Studies, that “80 percent of the people crossing the border illegally would stop appearing at their court hearings and remain in the country.” Applyby says: “Despite these claims, the Center for Immigration Studies has found that over the past 20 years 63 percent of immigrants did show up for their immigration hearings” (

There is another aspect to this story of refugees that deserves a comment. That is, border security officials have made it hard for those who fit the definition of a person is fleeing from persecution, war, violence, and unsustainable poverty to be given asylum and resettled in the country. This comes out in an interview on Democracy Now with Linda Rivas on July 5, 2018 (

Rivas is the executive director and lead attorney of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, an organization working with asylum seekers along the U.S.-Mexico border. She gives an example of how US border authorities are forcing some or many refugees who have a legal right to claim asylum in the U.S. to enter the country illegally. The example comes from the port of entry at El Paso.

“…we have one young mother that we met at the [El Paso] detention center just last week. She is a great example of how this administration criminalizes migration at all levels, at all stages. She comes in as a single mother with her 3-year-old child, and she’s attempting to cross at a port of entry, seeking asylum in an official wa. And she is turned away, not once, not twice, but numerous times over the course of three days. She’s along with a baby who is sick and fussing. And she finally get to the point where she is sick and tired of being turned away. And she does – in her own desperation, goes around the actual port of entry. And the minute she does that, she is [arrested] and prosecuted for illegal entry. She is separated from the 3-year-old little girl, and she [the mother] is detained.”

In short, the justifications for separation and detention bellowing from Trump and his administration not only violate the law but lead to cruel and inhuman practices by the border security forces. The implication is that Trump’s policies have led to rampant law-breaking.

Detention, separate or together, violates international law

But there is more to the legal case against Trump and his administration. Marjorie Cohn, professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and prolific author, makes the case that the Trump administration’s separation and detention immigration policies violate international laws as well as domestic law (

Cohn refers to “the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” She then discusses how Trump policies conflict with these international agreements. I’ll focus here on her analysis of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” but, be advised, the Trump policies also violate the other two conventions as well. But there is one point related to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that is worth identifying. Cohn writes on this:

“A primary object and purpose of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to protect the best interests of the child. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, stated that, ‘Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights’ violation.”

Now to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The U.S. government is obligated to abide by this agreement because the U.S. has ratified it, “making its provisions part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which says treaties ‘shall be the supreme law of the land.” Compliance to the is given to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. And the committee “has stated that detentions are arbitrary if they do not accord with due process and are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable.” Cohn contends that the separation and detention policy of the Trump administration violates this treaty for several reasons.

“Keeping families locked up for months with no good reason is unjust and inappropriate. It denies them due process and a timely resolution of their legal claims. And their time of release is unpredictable.”

“Moreover, the Human Rights Committee has said that even if detention is initially legal, it could become ‘arbitrary’ if unduly prolonged or not subject to periodic review.”

“People deprived of their liberty are entitled to a speedy trial. When they are arbitrarily detained, they have a right to compensation under the covenant. The covenant’s provisions are not limited to citizens, but apply in cases of immigration control as well. Parties to the covenant may refuse to comply with them only ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.”

Cohn adds: “Even brief detentions can result in permanent physical and mental harm to children.” She continues: “The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a 2015 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, which stated, ‘The act of detention or incarceration itself is associated with poorer health outcomes, higher rates of psychological stress, suicidality, making the situation for already vulnerable women and children even worse.” What disgrace Trump brings to the U.S.

Trump reverses the separation part of his shameful policy

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a nationwide injunction on June 26, 2018, blocking officials from separating any more families, “unless a parent ‘affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily declines to be reunited with the child…or there is a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child.” Jessica Corbitt paraphrases and quotes part of Sabraw’s rationale for her ruling. Corbett writes: “The Trump administration’s family separation policy was implemented without any standards for adequately tracking detained children taken away from their parents, so as Sabraw noted, the ‘startling’ and unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property” (

Judge Sabraw mandated in her ruling that “the government establish phone contact between separated children and their parents within 10 days.” Further, the judge ordered that the children separated from their parents under the Trump “zero tolerance” policy must be reunited with their families within two weeks if the children are under age 5 and with 30 days for the other children [under 18].

Trump’s policy is further challenged

The law-neglected immigration policy continues and manifests newly recognized, or acknowledged, problems

After this ruling, and after weeks of protests and international outcry against the separation policy, Trump signed an executive order on June 27ending family separations. However, there are two major problems with the new policy. One, it allows for indefinite detention of the reunited families. Two, the administration does not have adequate records on where many of the parents and children who were separated are presently located. Thus, the administration is having great difficulty in reuniting the children with their families.

On the first point, as reported by Jessica Corbitt (already cited), the attorney generals in 17 states and the District of Columbia “filed suit with the U.S. District Court in Seattle over President Trump’s recent executive order that called for an end to the policy, but which critics say trade ‘one form of child abuse for another.” That is, under the executive order, both children and parents remain now together in indefinite detention, violating both domestic and international laws. For example, it violates the Flores settlement, which “prohibits immigration authorities from keeping children in detention for over 20 days.” Under Obama’s administration, both children and parents were released, “trusting they would appear would appear at the court hearing on their immigration cases.”

A second lawsuit has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, in five jurisdictions where asylum seekers were facing 90-plus percent detention rates. The plaintiffs maintained that the government cannot arbitrarily detain people seeking asylum. According to Eunice Lee, interviewed on Democracy Now on July 5, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled that the law “requires the government to do what it should have been doing all along, which is provide a meaningful opportunity for individuals who are asylum seekers in immigration detention to be released after they pass the credible fear interview” (

On the second point, Trump and his administration has been wantonly remiss in their shoddy record-keeping when it came to keeping track of where children and their parents were located while the separation policy was in effect and is now having difficulty in effectuating reunification. Some parents have been deported and their whereabouts are unknown. The administration failed to meet Judge Sabraw’s order that 102 children under 5 who had been separated from their parents must be reunited with them by July 10, 2018. The government officials expected to reunite only 34 by the end of the day. Revealing his ignorance of immigration law, Trump blamed the problem of separated children on the migrants who “don’t come to our country legally.” However, as Jake Johnson reports, Judge Sabraw remains focused on the real issue that the government has an obligation to reunite the children with their parents and apparently expects to take some legal action against the government (

It’s not clear what action that court may take that will compel the Trump administration to reunite the children and parents, given the abysmal lack of foresight and planning in the whole separation calamity. Nonetheless, the judge is not relenting, according to Johnson’s report.

“Federal judge Dana Sabraw—who issued the ruling that set the Tuesday deadline—asked the ACLU to “submit a proposal for possible punishment” against the Trump administration for failing to meet the target date.
“Rebuffing White House requests, Sabraw also declined to extend the deadlines for reunification, declaring that they are “firm deadlines” not “aspirational goals.”

Concluding thoughts

There is no final resolution to the refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border in sight. As Trump and his administration respond to outrage and legal suits, the separation and detention policy has now morphed into an indefinite family detention policy, which is being challenged in the courts. In the meantime, the current policy emphasizes indefinite detention for asylum seekers. This process may take weeks or months, as applications are being examined helter-skelter by an understaffed, poorly trained border security service. The havoc and misery of asylum seekers who are legally entitled to resettlement in the U.S. are often left in buildings or camps, many owned and managed by for-profit enterprises,that are often as much like prisons or refugee camps as anything else. For example, see the article by Andrea Pitzer, “Concentration Camps in the U.S. Tent Cities for Detaining Kids Without Trial” (

Otherwise, refugees generally are left with bad options. They may either return to the dangerous places from which they fled, live in makeshift camps or dwellings on the Mexican-side of the border, or join those seeking to enter without authorization. One thing is clear. Trump will do everything he can to reduce the number of refugees permitted to enter the country. He doesn’t give a whit about the refugees, their basic humanity, the children, the law. None of these matter as long as he thinks that his policy is not hurting him politically.

With Republicans in control of the White House and the executive branch, both houses of the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, more than of half of all state governments, with continuing support from Trump’s core supporters seemingly as strong as ever, and with right-wing media and right-wing think tanks churning out news and studies that support the thrust of his anti-refugee rhetoric, it will take extraordinary effort by Democrats, groups like the ACLU, activists, and Trump’s opponents generally to change in fundamental ways Trump’s policy on refugees or his general immigration policies. But you can bet on one thing. As long as we have the freedom of dissent, of association, of some freedom of the press, of constitutional protection of such rights, as long as we can access verifiable evidence and information from our education, media, and literature, and as long as we have the ability to empathize with insight and a generosity of spirt with those in less fortunate circumstances than our own, then there are still reasons to hold onto some hope about meaningful changes in such policies as I’ve discussed in this post. But the obstacles are great – and its a problem that is likely to grow here and around the world.

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