It’s not enough that the Trump government has cut legal and illegal immigration, has tried to ban Muslims, has put into place agreements to force waits of a year or more in Mexico for families fleeing Central American violence.
Now he has issued an executive order that requires state and local governments consent—in writing—before refugees can arrive. So a state could ban refugees even when a city is prepared to welcome them. A locality can essentially veto a decision by the federal government to admit a fleeing family.
A state could ban refugees even when a city is prepared to welcome them, a locality can essentially veto a decision by the federal government.
That veto power is unprecedented for U.S. refugee resettlement.
Donald Trump used a campaign rally in Minnesota to flaunt the new order, telling thousands of yelling adherents that they should reject certain individuals—including Somali refugees who have settled in the area. The jeering crowd was quick to respond to the idea of blocking a non-white population.
“You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods, and that’s what you have the right to do right now,” Trump said as images of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the United States from Somalia as a refugee child, flashed overhead. “And believe me, no other president would be doing that.”
What the executive order says—you can find it here as fascinating reading—is that a state governor or city mayor can block resettlement.
We don’t know how it all is supposed to work because the order is a vague expression of Trump’s hatred of immigrants and not a thoughtful policy prescription. In fact, the secretaries of State and Health and Human Services have 90 days to translate the idea into a workable plan.
Fortunately, everything is just fine in our foreign affairs and in American health policies to allow these secretaries plenty of time to focus on what kind of declaration to seek from the mayor of Oakland or New York.
If they have that kind of time, perhaps they can figure out how to reunite children taken from migrant parents with their families.
Perhaps they can come up with ways to remain within the bounds of law while reducing the number of immigrants who are undocumented.
But why stop here?
But Not California
We’ve just seen what happens when local officials take on a Trump federal government that wants to loosen environmental laws or even what happens when individual states want to decriminalize marijuana usage.
Trump has lowered the boom on California for holding auto companies—with their approval, by the way—to more stringent mileage standards than does the federal government.
In the marijuana world, recreational usage stops at the Colorado border, and the federal government still insists bank loans that bolster local businesses there much adhere to anti-drug elements of federal banking statutes.
Several officials – including the mayor of Minneapolis, where the rally took place – came out immediately, tweeting (in writing) that refugees are welcome in that city.
In Texas, home to lots of refugees, Austin Mayor Steve Adler says immigration is a “positive for the community” while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been silent about any policy about immigrants.
The Washington Post talked with a range of local officials who basically argue that the order is potentially crippling for a refugee program long seen as accepting but under assault by the Trump White House. The officials said the order “opens the door to more demagoguery by Trump, increasingly emulated by others,” said The Post.
“This is another sign the administration is looking to absolutely decimate the refugee resettlement program,” said Jenny Yang, vice president for policy at World Relief, an evangelical Christian organization that helps new arrivals get their start in the United States. The policy encourages politicians looking to whip up xenophobia.
None of the 27 Republican governors and other state officeholders contacted by The Post said definitively that they would move to block refugees. But several said they support giving states that right.
For decades, the United States resettled more refugees than any other country — and often more than all other countries combined. Before Trump, Democratic and Republican presidents endorsed the program, and former President Ronald Reagan celebrated it in his farewell address, highlighting America’s welcome to refugees as proof that America stood “for freedom.” Trump has cut legal refugees to 18,000 from a high of 110,000 under former President Barack Obama.
The new executive order is from a president who sees no limit to his powers. It is meant to encourage racism.
Where are our courts and Congress?
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I’m not being hyperbolic or melodramatic when I say that democracy itself is on the line on November 3. Donald Trump has been on a mission to subvert our democracy and to push it toward an autocracy. No president has ever disavowed democracy like Trump. No president has ever wanted to change our democratic way of life like Trump.
Trump has shown little interest or intent in following our Constitution. He is not abiding by the emoluments clause. He breaks norms and rules at will. He does not recognize that the three branches of government are co-equal. He operates as if the executive branch has total power. Our democracy is not based on the executive branch having absolute power. It requires that the three branches have separate powers in a check-and-balances system. Trump impugns democracy because it limits his power and requires him to be held accountable.