written by Valerie Morales
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is failing. Not because it is bleeding money, nor because it is the object of derision, while showcasing how to drown beneath a crises. It is failing because it is a federal agency unequipped to handle the moment that is in front of them. It is failing its citizens.
A plethora of legislators haven’t been convinced, are uninterested or are just apathetic about changing the asylum rules to assist the agency in their deportation goals. It leaves DHS subsisting underwater.
Because there isn’t a plan citizens can embrace, craziness is amplified. Like when a constituent proposed murdering those at the southern border and the president of the United States laughed it off. That is our moral center these days. But Trump’s sarcastic laughter can’t hide Trump’s callous loathing. His disdain, and the refugees despair, circle one another in a snit of a dance that has no end in sight.
The irony in all of it is that Trump, who praises himself on the ability to make others fear him, has been effectively worthless at getting future refugees to stay at home. All of Trump’s pejoratives haven’t done a thing to quell the tide of immigrants at the southern border. Because his talk is redundant and doesn’t scare anyone- a man of privilege who has never had to live in fear- the crowds that Trump would normally eroticize are the enemy of the Trump state. They are brown, not white.
Absorbed in their marginalization and his failure, Trump has turned into a scolding parent. He is hoping that the restrictions he has put in place will deter asylum seekers. It’s the presidential version of throwing a bowl of grits at the ceiling and hoping it sticks.
But framing the disaster as an outrageous spectacle is misleading even as there is a problem at the border with such a massive influx of people trying to save themselves.
Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Let them eat cake.
On the empathy spectrum, Marie Antoinette trends higher than Donald Trump, but only slightly. While the peasant may not be eating bread or cake in their holding cells, they are eating at Trump’s synapses. It’s a cinematic horror show that has Trump critics smirking at the fine print-the xenophobe being ruined by the brown people he detests. The more frustrated he gets, the more corrosive Trump becomes, kind of like a dog who wants meat and you keep feeding him yesterday’s picked over scraps. Eventually, he’s going to destroy everything in his path.
Frustrated that children cannot be contained longer than 20 days, he sets tiny little fires in order to placate his rage. But forget about his whims for a moment. As a nation, we do not care about children we do not know. We care about our own children. That Trump has no particular interest in the lost and abandoned loitering in liminal alcoves and darkened corners is like that blues song. “You knew I was a snake before you took me in.”
Donald Trump has implemented a rule where asylum seekers have to pay an application fee. Poor people fleeing poverty, some of which don’t even have diapers for their infant children, will not have a couple of hundred bucks on them which is the point. A transactional punishment for the helpless to remind them that being helpless is a premise with hurdles. But every crazy crumb Trump has thrown at immigration law involves the courts. He seems to know this and not care.
The most incredulous part of the new restrictions, including the ban of work permits, is Trump’s insistence that asylum cases be adjudicated in 180 days. How exactly is that going to happen when cases are in limbo for two years? There are 800,000 cases on the books and the Trump administration has asked judges to reopen some of them.
Consuming this erotic absurdity and hubris on the regular is more threatening than the verbal vomit he gags us with. It breeds a cynical despair about the country that can’t be washed off. And it changes us, for the worst. We pout more. We listen less. We dismiss how troubling everything has become by oversaturating ourselves in social media junk food. We are not coping well.
But the policy remains the policy. To reduce the asylum numbers, Trump has ordered asylum officers to accuse asylum seekers of being liars, schemers, grifters who are exaggerating the intensity of violence, despair, and poverty. The protagonists are the villains at the gate. It is a very basic script a third grader could think up.
“The biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders is the use of fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry to our great country.” Donald Trump.
The loopholes are Trump’s fixation. They vex him so he wants to play hardball. Asylum workers will be forced to be confrontational and aggressive, as they press the vulnerable in a consortium of pessimism. Asylum seekers will have to justify why they are afraid. From the host country, it is white privilege run unfettered and unchecked. Here is the thing about fear that Trump would understand if he was ever afraid for his life and his children’s lives. It is paralyzing. It makes you not want to talk about it in detail. Just the words released in the air inspires PTSD to crawl into the brain. And exactly how do you convince someone you have been a victim of torture and rape? We don’t prosecute rapists here, nor do we believe victims. That a group of mostly men and some women would would sympathize with an immigrant who is accusing violent men of doing things that women here have had to suffer through while courts and men in charge do nothing is the ultimate hypocrisy.
U.S. law is strikingly clear. The asylum seekers have a legal right to enter the country for humanitarian reasons- fearing rape, murder, threats, torture. It is that unseen enemy that Trump eulogizes as a scam and wants to expose in this war he is waging by the sheer force of his racist will.
Jared Kushner is a co-conspirator, though a much quieter one. He recently entered the conversation with a suggestion of a grand society “our kind of people” sassiness. He wants immigrants in the country who can contribute to the economy. Haven’t heard from Jared in a while so his thoughts on the subject are, not surprisingly, more of the same racist landfall. The eroticization of one group of immigrants over the other. White skin over brown. Resourced over poor. None of this is particularly thought provoking or insightful and it is so attached to the Trump administration, it isn’t even volatile anymore. Just tired.
Because we are in this fractured place where the racist imagery damns the crises at hand, and the tail is wagging the dog, last month, when talking about the asylum seekers Donald Trump said, “Some of the roughest people you’ve ever seen, people that look like they should be fighting for UFC. You look at this guy and say ‘wow, that’s a tough cookie.’”
His racialized stereotype of the citizen refugee is a familiar story, the kind where those whose skin is not white have the grit and guts to deliver themselves from life’s dirty moments only because they have physical benefits that others fear. Trump has situated himself nicely with this anecdote. He is the other. A white man, he is afraid.
Here’s a fact. Only 20% of asylum seekers gain legal entry. Trump uses this figure to prove that the system is being overrun by criminals who are lying about their situation as opposed to the truth: asylum is the Harvard of U.S. entry, almost everyone is rejected. Fake families is common in Trump speak but it is a repeated lie. First off, families are always legitimate, regardless of what they are claiming.
About 3,000 “fake” families have been identified in the last year. When you consider 90,000 or more entered at the southern border in the month of April, that is less than 1%. And those that were fraudulent, their crime was lying about their age, something we all have done.
The new hard line policy has internal critics, those who are in the trenches. An anonymous asylum officer told the Washington Post the new changes will drag the process to rootless inefficacy. The officers are being asked to write expansive and detailed accounts, something they do not have time for. The asylum officers are the listeners, the confession bearers, the social workers. They are being paid to make a decision in a short amount of time while under stress and about people who are desperately stressed. They don’t want a mistake. And this too. They are human beings.
Credible fear is what the asylum officers are asked to assess in the first interview. Trump wants the officers to be prosecutorial. Treat the refugees like hostile witnesses in a trial. Assume they are guilty and not innocent and are scamming the country they want to be citizens of. Ridicule their desires with demands and impeachments. Make them dizzy with aggression and skepticism. Delight in their vulnerability. Abuse their humanity. Hiss at their timing. Hate them. Dishonor their tragic story and treat them with contempt. Finally, make them confess their lie.
Despite what the president is accusing, it is not an easy thing. Earning the right to stay in the United States is difficult freight if you are not applying for a visa. Very few immigrants have lawyers to help them mine the complex rules of asylum law. The documentation required is biblical. When families leave their homes they don’t think I need paperwork to prove my desperation. They just run.
The runner is always exhausted at the finish line and conflicted too. Was it worth it? But when that line is the southern border, there is one more race to be had and it’s an epic one, with a lot of misery and aggression and a guilty until proven innocent fugue. Donald Trump is counting on the runner’s fatigue and fear, that they will collapse in a ball of teary pessimism, frustration, anger and willingly go back home.
Trump radiates what a man his age is afraid of, the one who yells through a crack in the door at neighbor kids to get off his lawn. His youth has disappeared and his privilege feels flawed. Trump is at his most familiar as this intractable character. But the problem is the culture. It has little tolerance for old, white and male. And old, white, male and racist.