Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government — though apparently not when they’re the ones in power, or when it comes to targeting immigrants. As Donald Trump’s immigration and mass deportation agenda takes shape, one recurring theme is its heavy-handedness, extensive overreach, and use of government intrusion to force its way into cities, homes, and airports. It’s perhaps not surprising for a president who clearly thinks that he should be able to do whatever he wants, facts be damned — but Republicans and libertarians who decry federal overreach should really be challenging Trump’s burdensome policies. Below are a few examples:
Last week, Trump released a budget proposal which would dedicate more than $4 billion over two years to a border wall, one of Trump’s signature campaign issues. There are a lot of reasons why a wall would be an incredibly complicated (besides being absurd) project, not the least of which is eminent domain. About two-thirds of the land along the US-Mexico border is either state land or privately owned, and acquiring the land parcels could take years.
To initiate eminent domain, the government must first notify anyone with an interest in the land, serve thousands of legal notices, appraise each land parcel, handle counter-appraisals from property owners, and deal with lawsuits from owners and state governments. A border fence approved by Congress years ago ran into problems with eminent domain, seriously limiting how much could be built in the projected amount of time.
As Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the libertarian group Institute for Justice, told the Wall Street Journal, “Governments using eminent domain consistently underestimate how difficult it is to condemn property.”
Trump’s budget estimates that it will take 20 lawyers to handle eminent domain cases related to the wall, but the WSJ article warns that it could take many more. And Trump will have to deal with the headlines about him taking away other people’s land.
Freedom for travelers
In the couple of months since Trump’s inauguration, travelers flying into and around the US have been detained, harassed, interrogated, handcuffed, and forced to give immigration officials access to their phones. A NASA engineer and US citizen was forced to give CBP access to his government-issued phone. A software engineer was given a coding interview by an officer at JFK airport. A former US police chief was held for 90 minutes earlier this month. Muhammad Ali, Jr., son of the boxing champion, has been stopped on numerous occasions, and some have opined that the administration is deliberately seeking high-profile targets in order to sow fear.
Customs and Border Patrol do have the authority to conduct broader searches than other law enforcement agencies, and can make life very uncomfortable for travelers who don’t agree to unlock their phones. But agents are supposed to have a “very good reason based on individualized suspicion of illegal activity,” according to Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the ACLU. Recently, it seems like agents are profiling as well as questioning, pulling aside Muslims, people coming from certain countries, and people with less-common names. Travelers are being forcibly detained, sometimes for hours, and coerced into giving up their data — even when they’re US citizens, even when they’ve been granted the TSA Pre-Check that means they’ve passed a government background check. And there’s zero evidence that Trump’s measures are making anyone safer — especially since the administration is not even focusing on the targets that make the US least safe. Yet few supposedly-small-government-loving Republicans have spoken out against them.
When it comes to cities with friendly immigration policies, Republican rhetoric for states’ rights and local control seems to fly out the window. Sanctuary cities are simply trying to preserve the trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, by keeping police officers from having to double as immigration agents and not handing immigrants over to ICE unless they’ve been convicted of a serious crime. When immigrants no longer trust local law enforcement officials, they stop reporting crime and cities are forced to drop cases because witnesses won’t speak out. Yet Trump has threatened to defund such cities — yesterday, he published a report that sought to name, shame, and intimidate immigrant-friendly communities. The problem? The report contained misleading information and misrepresentation about the policies of various cities and counties. It ignored the fact that federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the immigration detainers that such cities stand up to are optional requests and cannot be made mandatory.
Yet this isn’t stopping Donald Trump’s ICE from doing whatever it wants, wherever it wants. It’s picked up domestic abuse victims from outside courthouses. It’s forcing school districts to prepare for raids on school property. This week, we’ve learned that ICE has been conducting raids in Austin, Texas, in retaliation for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new policy that limits local police cooperation with ICE. These cities and counties are unable to keep ICE out, despite local preferences for immigration enforcement — and their policies on how to handle ICE requests are under attack by Trump and by the federal government. But where is Republican outrage about this overreach?