By Kent R. Kroeger (June 14, 2018)
One person typically does not drive national policy on an issue as complex and divisive as immigration, but the Trump administration is hardly typical and Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the president, is not just any person.
Smart and unflinching, Miller has always been a provocateur. In a 2002 “satirical” speech to his high school classmates he said: “Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?” Miller would years later describe the speech as his attempt at Stephen Colbert-inspired satire — though, as seen in the video of his speech (below), he isn’t funny. He’s mean.
After high school, Miller attended Duke University and gained national notoriety for his vocal defense of the Duke men’s lacrosse players accused of raping a woman during a party. The story itself left many reputations in shambles, including the Durham County District Attorney’s Office that manipulated evidence used against the lacrosse players and the national news media that (surprise!) rushed to judgment against the male students.
The one reputation enhanced by the Duke lacrosse fiasco? Stephen Miller’s.
He graduated from Duke and went straight to Washington, D.C. to work for a number of conservative congressional members. Immediately, he established himself as prepared to man the ramparts on the war against illegal immigration.
As a policy advisor and communications director for then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Miller rode shotgun as Sessions “almost single-handedly killed the 2013 bipartisan immigration-reform bill that would have created a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants,” wrote William Cohan in Vanity Fair.
By the time Miller joined the Donald Trump presidential campaign in 2016, he had not only established his conservative bona fides, especially around immigration, he was a true rock star among the alt-right and Breitbart crowd.
For the rest of us, his infamy was enshrined when he defended Trump’s Muslim but not really a Muslim immigration ban by telling CBS’ John Dickerson: “Our opponents, the media and the whole world, will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
‘We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law.’
On April 8, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions “notified all U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border of a new zero-tolerance policy for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.”
Soon thereafter, the news media took notice of a rising number of children being separated from their parents after they illegally entered the U.S.
At a May 16th roundtable on sanctuary cities, President Trump addressed the child separations issue: “We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing where you have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law and they don’t want to do anything about it.”
During a May 29th press briefing, Miller clarified Trump’s claim by noting the laws governing child separations were not a Democratic creation, but then suggested the Democrats own those laws by not passing the president’s immigration agenda.
“It’s a pretty straightforward issue,” Miller said. “Near-unanimous Republican agreement about the need to change law and policy in order to close those loopholes, and the Democrats are opposing them.”
The primary law in question is The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, signed by President George W. Bush, which gives safe harbor to victims of human trafficking and says unaccompanied children “are exempt from prompt return to their home country.”
Also mentioned by Miller was 1997’s Flores court settlement under Bill Clinton’s administration which requires U.S. border and immigration authorities to release undocumented immigrant children to either their parents (if possible), to other adult relatives, or to a licensed foster care program.
“So, on one hand, the Flores settlement and the TVPRA require that children be released. On the other, Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy subjects any accompanying parents to criminal prosecution and eventual deportation,” explained Washington Post fact-checker Salvador Rizzo. “Laying this on Democrats does not track with reality. Nothing required the Trump administration to separate children from their families until Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy made it a practical necessity.”
In other words, no law, Democrat majority-passed or otherwise, requires immigrant families to be separated.
The real purpose of child separations? White House Chief of Staff John Kelly may have spilled the beans when he told NPR, “They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason — but the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.”
Deterrence. The U.S. government’s separating children from their parents, a cruel and mean-spirited policy, is a deterrence meant to discourage other people from illegally entering the country.
Is it working? The Washington Post’s research has, so far, found no evidence that child separations are a deterrence.
Trump may be squandering any goodwill gained from the Singapore Summit
Images of children being held in detention centers along our nation’s southern border are triggering a broad based censure of the Trump administration’s new policy, particularly from religious communities.
The Rev. Franklin Graham: “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families is “immoral.”
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), recently held in Dallas, Texas, passed a near unanimous vote a resolution that calls for the Trump administration to end the separation of families, in addition to securing the nation’s borders and offering a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
The SBC resolution, in particular, must be raising alarms in the White House. Granted, the opinions of Southern Baptist leaders attending the Dallas conference do not necessarily reflect the opinions of rank-and-file evangelicals. Nonetheless, if rank-and-file evangelicals increasingly start hearing from their pastors about the dehumanizing nature of child separations, this may have a long-term negative impact on Trump’s support among evangelicals.
And, if it does, Trump should single out Miller and Sessions for lion’s share of the blame.
It’s a pattern: Trump forgives people who dehumanize others on an industrial scale
Perhaps I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I’m starting to think Trump enjoys sharing company with people who like to dehumanize others.
We’ve discussed Miller. But how about these other examples:
On North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump recently told Fox News’ Bret Baier: “Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have.” Trump went on to say Kim is “a tough guy.”
Human Rights Watch reports North Korea “practices collective punishment for alleged anti-state offenses, effectively enslaving hundreds of thousands of citizens, including children, in prison camps and other detention facilities.” North Korea may be holding around 120,000 political prisoners.
On Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump gushed: “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.” According to Amnesty International, China executes more people each year than all other countries combined.
The list of other known human rights abusers Trump “gets along with” include: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and…of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Add to that list the Trump administration’s silence on the condition of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, including the recent Palestinian protests along the Israeli-Gaza border, where, since the protests began in March, 123 Gazans have died (most by Israeli snipers) and 14,000 have been wounded. Among the deaths, a 21-year-old nurse, Razan al-Najjar, killed by a sniper even though she was clearly identifiable as a medic.
This all adds up to a pattern within the Trump administration: a tolerance for the systematic dehumanziation of people on the wrong side of American policy.
And who is at the center of these dehumanizing policies with respect to immigration? Stephen Miller.
It may take the “Blue Wave” in the midterm elections before we see tangible damage to the Trump administration done by the separation of children from their parents along our southern border. And should that happen, Trump will want someone to scapegoat (and hopefully fire). I nominate Stephen Miller to be at the top of that list.