The Trump administration has taken many official actions that are transparently illegal. For example, there have been a laundry-load of illegal attempts to stop the implementation of various valid regulations that the new EPA, Dept. of Interior, and other agencies want to amend or withdraw. Our law doesn’t work that way, and federal judges have done a decent job of laughing those transparently illegal actions out of court and keeping the old regulations in place until a valid new one is promulgated.
Worse, there have been terrible and illegal actions by the Trump administration preventing asylum-seekers from presenting their claims, and especially evil actions in which the administration has gone out of its way to separate refugee children from their parents–a policy whose harms were intensified by ineptitude, or more likely intentional viciousness, in which the Trump administration then lost the children, or never collected or lost the information about which child belonged with which parent, or deported the parents and then said it was unable or unwilling to reunite the families. Children in detention have at times received no care, little care, or been caged much like animals. At least one toddler died following, and as far as we can tell as a result of, this captivity. Here too, we have more than one judge with a spine doing what they can to force the Trump administration to clean up the mess it made. Cooperation has been imperfect at best, and there is evidence that suggests outright obstruction at times.
Do not be fooled into the complacent view that only foreign people are at risk. The Trump administration is gunning for naturalized citizens. Where once denaturalization was an exceptional remedy for significant immigration fraud (such as failing to admit WW2 Nazi ties), now it’s an enforcement goal to be applied more broadly.
But that’s not all: the Trump administration is also trying to denaturalize natural-born citizens. We learn now that the Trump administration is coming for the citizenship of a substantial number of Mexican-Americans. The purported reason is doubts about the validity of their birthright citizenship due to the existence of some cases (perhaps a very small number, it isn’t clear yet) of actual fraud in which children born south of the Rio Grande were said to have been born north of it. The degree of particularized suspicion sounds, from what we know so far, quite thin. The near-impossibility of finding proof of birth location by midwife 30+ years after the fact is obvious. And, not that it should matter, many of the victims of this policy are veterans, cops, or holders of other jobs of trust and responsibility.
These cases are only part of a more general pattern of aggressive enforcement against Black or Brown people. In one case, ICE held a (Black) citizen in detention for 1,273 days. ‘Mistakes’ are legion.
Some of these policies are not new in principle but have been greatly generalized in application from rare and exceptional to routine and careless or grossly and gleefully reckless, thus including cases where proof is thin or lacking. In time they too may founder in the courts. Meanwhile they will deal pain, spread fear, and could stop a large number of people from voting while their cases are being litigated, for fear of committing the federal crime of non-citizen voting. Win-win for Trump.
Trump notoriously envies Russian strong-man policies. How long before the Trump administration attempts to adopt Russian policies on removing citizenship of dual nationals, or of dissidents? Unthinkable? I would have said revoking some citizens’ passports and locking up others on the grounds they are fake citizens should cross every line and serve as ample warnings. The behavior we have already seen by the US Government was considered unthinkable when I was in law school 30 years ago. When I palled around with the cypherpunks in the 90’s and they worried about oppressive domestic regimes, it was easy to dismiss them as paranoid; I myself wavered at times on the extent to which they were sensibly cautious or plain nuts (and, admittedly, it may have varied among them).
Clichéd perhaps from overuse, but more apt then ever, are the words of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
My wife, a green-card-holder, is going abroad today for a week in which she’ll attend an academic conference. Will the Trump administration let her back into the US next week? Nothing to worry about, I think, because she’s white, and British even if she is an academic. Not the targeted group at present. That we should have to make this calculation and measure our privilege is an outrage for us, a far more serious wrong for those lacking it, and a tragedy for this country.