At yesterday’s march in El Paso, Texas protesting the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policies, one of the speakers–a DACA recipient–told her story of a recent run-in with the Border Patrol after returning home from a work trip abroad.
Despite her DACA status, she was detained for several hours. There she met several of the victims of this new zero tolerance policy, including mothers separated from their children.
But for me, the most important part of her story was when she quoted the Border Patrol agent who sent her to detention despite the fact that she had a DACA deferment.
He told her, “The Border Patrol listens to the President, not the federal courts.”
I wish everyone who denies that our democracy is in peril could hear that and really, really think about it for a minute.
It’s more than a sign that some of our border and customs officials are being infected by cruelty and callousness as though they were participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment.
This is a story of a federal agent denying the due process of a resident by negating the separation of powers and pledging exclusive loyalty to the executive branch. It’s a story about democracy breaking down.
Could it be an isolated incident? One bad apple?
Not likely. We’ve heard stories of detainees abused by agents. Of families split up and sent thousands of miles away from each other. Even of asylum seekers being tricked into turning away from the legal points of entry so that they can be snared in the zero tolerance net when they cross elsewhere and seek out the Border Patrol to request asylum.
This cruelty is not incidental to Trump’s border policy.
It is Trump’s border policy.
Trump says that we have to defend our borders, that we have to toughen up our border policy to stop the waves of illegal immigrants threatening to “infest” our country. But that’s yet another lie.
There was no crisis on the border until Trump–or rather, until Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller–created one. Illegal immigration is at near historic lows and we have never had so many resources allocated to border enforcement.
With thousands in the streets, with his evangelical support eroding (finally), and with voices from both sides of the aisle denouncing the cruelty of this border policy, you’d think this would count as a self-inflicted wound for the administration–that Trump and his team have badly miscalculated.
But you’d be wrong. This is all part of the plan.
To really understand this whole mess, you have to understand the dank, wicked little mind of Stephen Miller. Often described as troll-in-chief, Miller believes ardently in the politics of provocation. Like the travel ban before it, these policies are designed specifically to stir up the liberals. Miller wants us in the street. Miller wants us loudly decrying this policy.
Miller is supposedly a fan of The Dark Knight Rises, since he loves how the film seems to mock economic dissatisfaction, but I think a better tool for understanding his mind is the film that precedes it.
During the climax of Batman’s battle with the Joker in The Dark Knight–still one of the best movies of the century–there’s a moment where the Joker’s plot falls apart because neither of two groups of ordinary people he pit against each other will save themselves by blowing the other group up.
Batman, seeing the Joker’s disappointment, intones, “What were you trying to prove–that deep down everyone is as ugly as you?”
I think of that line when I think about Stephen Miller.
Miller is sure that immigration is a winning issue for the Republicans in the 2018 midterms because he believes that, when push comes to shove, the American people will respond to pro-immigration sentiment from the Left like a spoiled two-year old, that by and large the populace will clutch at those promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and shout in an infantile, shrill crescendo, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
He believes, like the Joker, that all of us so-called civilized people will eat each other when the going gets rough.
There are plenty of people warning the Democrats that they’re playing into Miller’s hands here. They believe that focusing so much on immigration will have a backlash effect, making native-born Americans (you can go ahead and read that as a euphemism for “older, white Americans”) think the Left only cares about immigrants, not Americans–a charge repeated by Tucker Carlson when he said recently that the ruling class “care far more about foreigners than about their own people.”
But all the people warning Democrats not to fall into his trap are in it, too. They, too, are presuposing that Miller is right. That we are as ugly as he thinks.
As Americans, we should not care only about “our own people.” We should care about the principles that define the American Dream–freedom, democracy, and yes, this nation being a beacon for immigrants. That’s what this immigration crisis is really about: What kind of America we want to live in. Is America a nation of principle or an ethnic enclave trying to protect its own?
So I know what Miller wants. I know what his plan is. I marched anyway.
Because I believe we can be better. Because I believe this moment is about so much more than this one issue, about more, even, than children being ripped from their parents’ arms.
There is something even more sinister brewing beneath this.
Federal agents circumventing the checks and balances essential to our democratic system. An administration using race-baiting and a manufactured crisis to create an us vs. them division within society. A president willing to lie to the American people, attack the free press, and undermine law enforcement.
This is how fascism takes root.
I hope the American system and the American people are strong enough, moral enough to turn away from this abyss.
But if not, and the worst comes to pass and we see the end of the American republic in our lifetimes, I have no doubt I’m standing on the right side of history.
And woe to all of you who remain silent and do not resist.