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David Nakamura: “Trump says the border crisis is about criminals and gangs. His administration says it is about families and children.”

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In a new piece for the Washington Post, David Nakamura highlights Trump’s portrayal of Latino migrants as criminals and gang members as a central piece to his 2020 reelection campaign theme and part of his Strongman brand. This not only puts him at odds with some inside his administration, but is blinding him to genuine solutions and reveals his cynical desire to play politics rather than address immigration realistically.

The piece is excerpted below and available in full here.

Faced with rising numbers of migrants at the southern border, President Trump has regaled supporters with increasingly apocalyptic warnings of an “invasion” populated by criminals with face tattoos who look fearsome enough to be “fighting for the UFC.”

“Some of the roughest people you’ve ever seen,” Trump declared in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas last month.

But on Wednesday, in an emergency plea to Congress for $4.5 billion, his administration described the migrants as vulnerable families and children whose dire situation requires the resources “to sustain critical and lifesaving missions.”

“Immediate emergency action is required . . . to safely, securely, and humanely process and care for this at-risk migrant population.”

…The sharp dichotomy between the president’s rhetoric and the tone of his aides reflects how they are waging a battle on separate fronts — one political and the other operational — as the administration struggles to deal with a mounting humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump, seeking to consolidate his conservative base ahead of his reelection campaign, has escalated his attacks on the migrants as dangerous lawbreakers intent on exploiting U.S. asylum laws.

…Trump, who launched his presidential campaign in 2015 by referring to immigrants from Mexico as “rapists,” has long sought to paint migrants as dangerous. He has inflated the number of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and highlighted sensational murder cases during a prime-time Oval Office address in January.

…This week, in an executive memorandum, the president instructed the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to develop regulations to charge asylum seekers fees and deny them work permits as they await their hearings in immigration court.

…Yet last month, as the number of border arrests continued to climb, Trump announced he wanted to go in a “tougher direction,” forcing Nielsen to resign and replacing her with Kevin McAleenan, the CBP commissioner.

Privately, McAleenan has told associates that his biggest fear is having another child die in federal custody. But that concern was not on Trump’s mind during a speech to the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis last week.

Calling on Democrats to amend asylum laws, Trump called the programs “horrible” and said the migrants coming in are “rough, tough MS-13 gang members.”

“You don’t want to meet with these people,” he said.