Jeh Johnson, will you please pick up the white courtesy phone? Several members of the Obama administration would like to have words with you.
As you almost certainly know at this point, the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policies on immigration have caused quite the kerfuffle. However, as many defenders of the plans have pointed out, they hardly began with Trump.
In fact, many of the policies — and the pictures of children in cages — date back to the Obama administration. You know, the group of people who percolated the milk of human kindness as they spread their hope and change across the land. Apparently, when the unaccompanied minor immigrant crisis of 2014 hit the administration, they dealt with it no better (and some might say worse) than the Trump administration did.
And, during an appearance on MSNBC, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson more or less acknowledged this fact.
“Lesson learned — illegal migration reacts sharply to perceived changes in enforcement policy in the short term,” Johnson told Andrea Mitchell.
“But it always reverts back longer term to longer-term trends given the underlying conditions called push factors in Central America. So that’s what President Trump and his administration have seen now over the last year. The numbers are 40 or 50,000 a month, and they’re obviously frustrated with that.
“So in 2014, to deal with the spike then, with the families, we did a number of things — including, by the way, working with the government of Mexico and obtaining their cooperation on securing their southern border. But we also expanded family detention. It was, I freely admit, controversial.”
“And you got a lot a lot of heat for it,” Mitchell stated.
“We got a lot of heat for it,” Johnson agreed. “There were just 95 beds out of a total of 34,000 equipped to handle families. We expanded that capability. I will freely admit, I made a big deal out of it. The people could see what we were doing.”
Johnson “freely admits” of many things. Here’s what he doesn’t quite freely admit of, either glossing over the implications of what he says or omitting facts entirely.
First, “illegal migration reacts sharply to perceived changes in enforcement policy in the short term.” To parse that another way, until structural changes are made in border security, cooperation with Central American nations and laws concerning illegal immigration — the long-term “push factors” of which Johnson speaks — immigration not only reacts to enforcement, it “reacts sharply” to enforcement. Thus, the deterrent factor we hear being dismissed so readily is very real, and Johnson admits it.
Second, the Obama administration did the selfsame thing that the Trump administration is doing with their zero-tolerance policies. In fact, that’s where you got those infamous pictures of kids in cage-like cells which mysteriously disappeared off of social media once it became clear their provenance traced back to the Obama administration. (That still hasn’t stopped the Trump administration’s critics from using the “children in cages” line even though it’s contrafactual.)
Then there’s Johnson’s claim that he tried to expand the capability to handle more families in detention. Fair enough. Nobody in the administration seemed terribly concerned with ending the Flores consent decree from 1997, which requires that children be released from custody after a short time. This means that any attempt to enforce a zero-tolerance policy will necessarily lead to parents and children being separated.
Indeed, for many liberals, this is a feature and not a bug; Salvador Rizzo in The Washington Post wrote that “separations are rising in large part because of a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In April, Sessions directed prosecutors to charge as many illegal entry offenses as possible. This policy is a choice. Sessions could rescind it as easily as he instituted it.”
In other words, stop enforcing immigration law and the problem goes away. Or just reinstate catch and release. Problem solved!
The Obama administration also did nothing to change issues with the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, a well-meaning bipartisan act which requires formal deportation hearings for illegal immigrant minors who aren’t from Mexico or Canada and don’t have family in the United States. The problem is that, in cases that don’t involve human trafficking, most parents plead guilty in an expedited fashion and are repatriated to their home country. Because of the act, minors can’t receive expedited hearings. The Obama administration could have fixed this by tying the child’s court case to the parent’s. Again, no action.
Overall, though, Johnson made it clear that there’s not a whole lot of difference between what his administration did and what the Trump administration is doing. To stop problematic illegal immigration patterns, they’re changing enforcement procedures. Part of that includes family detention. And back in 2014, nobody cared.
What a difference four years — and a different narrative — can make.
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