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Trump’s Punitive Policy is Failing at the Border and There’s a Better Way

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As we’ve been highlighting, Trump is failing at the border and has zero idea what to do as his hardline deterrence-only policies aren’t working to stem the volume of asylum-seeking families. Instead of exploring the types of practical policies that a more sane administration would pursue, Trump is hellbent on injecting more chaos, more inhumanity, and more hardline policies into the region, mostly because of Trump’s brand image on immigration and what he views as his political incentives ahead of a divisive 2020 re-election contest.

It’s through this lens that we should examine last week’s ruling from Attorney General William Barr to grant new legal authority to ICE to hold asylum seekers in indefinite detention. Below, we lift up some key observers capturing the implications of the Barr ruling and other examples of the Trump administration’s failing policy agenda – and highlighting why their approach is self-defeating and doomed to keep failing.

A Washington Post editorial titled,William Barr’s immigration order is the latest example of Trump’s punitive policy,” notes:

AG Barr’s indefinite latest example of President Trump’s preference for punitive rather than pragmatic policy. Instead of hiring hundreds more immigration judges to expedite adjudication and reduce caseloads, the administration forces some migrants back into Mexico while they await the outcome of asylum applications, and slow-walks the processing of asylum seekers at ports of entry, prompting some to seek illegal entry in remote areas.

(For more on what such a “pragmatic policy” would look like – see this recent AV piece on the four elements of a multi-pronged strategy that a more sane administration would pursue and read Doris Meissner and Sarah Pierce from the Migration Policy Institute here).

A Washington Post article by Kevin Sieff, “The Stay Here Center,” profiles a Guatemalan organization focused on teens that is funded jointly by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Guatemalan government:

[The Stay Here Center] is “an attempt to stem the flow of migrants from Guatemala, now the biggest source of people attempting to migrate to the United States. About one in 100 Guatemalans has reached the U.S. border in the last year alone.

The United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on programs such as the Stay Here Center, aimed at improving the lives of would-be migrants in their own communities so they don’t leave home in the first place.

…President Trump said last month he would cancel aid to those three countries — to punish them, he said, for not doing enough to stop migration. Development experts and diplomats called the move self-defeating: Cutting programs aimed at curbing migration would only increase the flow of migrants.”

And Jonathan Blitzer recently reflected in The New Yorker about “The Unlawful Ambitions of Donald Trump’s Immigration Policy,” writing:

The Trump Administration has enacted the harshest immigration policies in a century, but it has also reached the outer limits of what any government can legally do to stem immigration. The courts have blocked a number of the President’s signature initiatives, from his family-separation policy to a Presidential proclamation banning asylum. In response, the Administration has planned more aggressive enforcement measures, but none of them has changed regional migration flows.

… The main sources of contention in the Trump White House are the laws and regulations that dictate how the government must treat asylum seekers at the border.

…the White House has directed the department to take radical action and deal with the consequences later. In the general counsel’s office at D.H.S., the official told me, “there’s a view now that we should be pushing the legal limits,” because “we’re going to win at the Supreme Court.”