Well, 2018 sure has been fun so far – hasn’t it? The report that President Trump called Haiti and the entire continent of Africa “shithole countries” is poised to take over the news cycle until the end of the week. And thoughtful discussion on the policy from which this statement reportedly occurred has, as expected, been crowded out by the President’s statement.
I want to air out this policy debate a little because it’s been subsumed by facile questions about whether the president’s statement was egregious, and whether it came from a place of racial animus. The answer is yes to both, so let’s move on and actually discuss some policy.
The president was having a closed-door discussion with congressional leaders about immigrants with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a designation often given to those fleeing existential disasters in their home countries. 59,000 Haitians are currently living in the U.S. legally with TPS, after the 2010 earthquake hobbled the country and left hundreds of thousands without livelihoods. In response to widespread water shortages and political violence in El Salvador, the U.S. has given TPS to 200,000 Salvadorans since 2001. The Trump administration has announced an end to TPS for both countries. In total, the government is going to revoke the legal status of over 300,000 immigrants.
The governments of both Haiti and El Salvador have released statements declaring their countries are in no state to accommodate this high volume of returning peoples on such short notice. Also, having temporary protected status makes one ineligible to apply for a visa or green card, even if they would otherwise qualify to begin the process of becoming a full citizen. Sending people who have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States for 17 years to countries that are not capable of accommodating them presents an ethical dilemma. Ethics aside, though, it is also narrow-minded to deny people who have resided in the United States for over a decade the chance to apply for citizenship but instead give those visas and green cards to immigrants who have not yet set foot in the country.
Speaking of narrow-mindedly denying citizenship to people who have resided in the United States for decades, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was also a topic of discussion at the policy meeting where Trump’s latest racist outburst occurred. If no action is taken by March, 800,000 dreamers – undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors brought by their parents – will lose their protection and face deportation as well.
Temporary protected status is – by definition – temporary. Presidents Bush and Obama have both given extensions to TPS immigrants well beyond the time-horizon the program was intended for. They’ve done this both to avoid disrupting the lives of U.S. residents, and because true reform to the immigration system has been politically inviable for most of the last 20 years. Ending TPS after it’s been extended for 8 or even 17 years is not unthinkable. I’d argue the real problem is the shameful inadequacy of the U.S. when it comes to those seeking asylum. Both recipients of DACA and most immigrants on TPS would fit the requirements to be Asylum seekers under international law. The U.S. has famously done a horrendous job of honoring international agreements we have signed about asylum-seekers.
But what if you don’t care about honoring America’s international agreements? What if you don’t care about the lives or livelihoods of immigrants from Haiti or El Salvador, or Nicaragua? What if you don’t care about the taxes they’ve paid, businesses they’ve started, or employers they work for?
Well, if you are one of the 3 million people who work for the federal government, have any pending patents or trademarks, or are planning a vacation to a national park anytime soon, then you should still care about the President’s remarks and the meeting he made them in. That’s because the reason the white house was holding negotiations with congress at all was to avoid a government shutdown on Friday, January 19.
The government was supposed to run out of money late last year, but Democrats and Republicans hashed out two short term deals to temporarily fund the government. But now time is up. Any deal will have to get 60 votes in the Senate, which means Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs at least 9 Democrats to agree to any deal, and that presumes he holds all of his members in line – a task that has proven difficult for him in the past.
Democrats have repeatedly said that a deal to continue protecting dreamers who applied for DACA is a critical first step in agreeing to any budget negotiations. Now with Trump pulling the rug out from TPS recipients as well, it looks like no budget deal will come without at least a rough outline of reforms to the immigration system as a whole.
Ultimately, Trump’s comments about shithole countries has increased the likelihood of a government shutdown. It shows his hand, his opposition to immigration isn’t based on “America first” or assimilation. If it was, why wouldn’t we keep the immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador who create more jobs for American workers than they take? And that have already been living and assimilating into the U.S. for years?
Last week it appeared that Democrats and Republicans in Congress had reached a deal to fund the government and protect dreamers in return for increased funding for border security and *sigh* extra walls and fencing. All of that was thrown in to chaos when the President decided to mouth off about other countries. If on Saturday, exactly one year after the President’s inauguration, the government is shut down despite unified Republican control of government, there will be no one to blame but himself.