AN ERRATIC NARCISSIST SURROUNDED BY FANATICAL IDEOLOGUES
Watching Trump on TV on Jan. 19 when he announced his latest proposal, financing his wall in return for “benefits” for TPS and DACA recipients, some could think he really believed what he was saying.
But it is certainly not the first time that he says one thing and does another, or that he states an opinion and its opposite the next minute. It was with DACA – the Obama policy which gave a residence and temporary work permits to young people who had arrived illegally – that he was the most wavering, starting with his election campaign. They must be deported, then, no! they must be protected against deportation. They are “absolutely incredible kids. We’re going to show great heart. I love these kids,” but on Sep. 5, 2017 his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ended DACA. Then began a six month period for Congress to find a lasting solution. And Trump continued: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated, and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?… You have to allow them to become citizens.”
Trump’s former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, called him “dumb as shit.”
But in the end, he announced that the DACA negotiations were “dead.”
The most absurd was a DACA meeting at the White House on Jan. 9, 2018 with about 30 members of Congress, in front of the television cameras. In less than an hour of debate, “Trump took nearly every conceivable position.”
There was the same back and forth over the H-1B visa granted to foreign employees. On Jan. 11, Trump tweeted, “H-1B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship.We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.” Yet, almost two years ago – in April 2017 – he issued his “Buy American and Hire American” decree which resulted, by the end of 2017, in a 41% increase in refusals of this visa, to the point where professor Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell University Law School called it an “invisible wall against H-1B workers.”
There has been the same volatile attitude with respect to Haitians. In September 2016, during his election campaign in the all important state of Florida, he praised their “perseverance, entrepreneurship, creativity, and faith” and declared in Miami’s Little Haiti that “all the things that make America good and strong can be found right here, amazing people, so I come here today to say that the Haitian-American community deserves our gratitude and our respect, and I want you to know you have my respect.”
He added about the 2010 terrible earthquake: “truth is Haiti is still suffering very badly, maybe as badly, after all of the tears and all of the money and all of the work. The Haitian people deserve better, so… I will give them better. Today we begin a new chapter, together we will build a relationship based on mutual respect and friendship and love […] and whether you vote for me or don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be […] You’re an amazing community and it’s an honor to be with you.” One year later, Trump’s DHS secretary Elaine Duke, under White House pressure, terminated Haitians’ Temporary Protection Status.
Trump to Haitians: I really want to be your greatest champion
We could be kind and talk about incomprehension. His own Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and former chiefs of staff, John Kelly and Reince Priebus, have all called him an “idiot.” Kelly added “unhinged.” His former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said he was a “fucking moron.” Meanwhile, his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Trump has the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” His former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, called him “dumb as shit” and his ex-national security advisor H.R. McMaster, a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner.”
One can certainly add ignorance, with its corollary of racism. In the spring of 2017, shortly after his inauguration, Trump met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. “During that meeting, one of the members mentioned to Trump that welfare reform would be detrimental to his constituents — adding, ‘Not all of whom are black’ according to NBC News. The president was incredulous. ‘Really? Then what are they?’” According to the 2017 report of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington DC, 6.2 million whites had benefited from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly referred to as welfare, against 2.8 million blacks and 2.4 million Hispanics, i.e. 54% for the US president’s favorite race.
Trump seems to show childlike – and ephemeral – empathy with the person in front of him. At the aforementioned DACA meeting at the White House, he said “yes” to every Congressperson (thereby creating a lot of confusion about his intentions). And coming out of his face-to-face meeting (his favorite formula) with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Jun. 12, 2018, he said: “We have developed a very special bond. We will have a terrific relationship.” A few months before he had lambasted him in trans-Pacific tweets as a “little rocket man” and a “sick puppy,” adding that his “nuclear button” was “much bigger and more powerful” than the North Korean’s – “and it works.” Kim had responded by calling him a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
“He has a basic understanding of the immigration issue but is not conversant on the details and jargon that lawmakers have been negotiating on and off for years” wrote The Atlantic’s Russell Berman about Trump after the above-mentioned White House meeting. We would not be surprised if Trump was left in the dark – without that disturbing him – about the details of last month’s bill, of which he presented only a misleading aspect: granting a three-year legal reprieve to DACA and TPS.
In the case of DACA, in order to finally convince Trump to stop it, his then Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and his advisers plotted with Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, who gave an ultimatum: he would sue the federal government if it did not end on Sep. 5, 2017 the program he found illegal because, instituted under Obama in 2012, it exceeded the executive’s power. By that date, Trump bowed down.
When Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, prevailed on Trump to re-open the government on Jan. 25, 2019, without giving him a penny of the $ 5.7 billion he was asking for his wall, she said she “has long held that Trump is weak, easily confused, and easily baited.”
FEAR OF THE FOREIGNER. BRING IMMIGRATION TO ZERO
Trump looks after his electoral base, but his entourage sees much farther and knows firmly what they want, starting with Jeff Sessions, an anti-immigration fanatic since his days in the Senate where he entered in 1997 after being Attorney General in Alabama. At the time, he had summoned a black official to his office, called him “boy” and told him “to be careful what he said to white people.” Earlier, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 as a federal judge, he had been voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the second time only in half a century that the Committee vetoed a candidate for the federal judiciary. During his examination, it was revealed that he had called a white civil rights lawyer a “traitor and a disgrace to his race,” and he had referred to the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, and the ACLU as communist-inspired and un-American.
Let us add he was the only senator to endorse Donald Trump at the very beginning of the election campaign of the man who later appointed him Attorney General. And this time, Sessions was more successful in a Senate dominated by the Republicans, who notably banned Democrat Elizabeth Warren from quoting a letter by Coretta Scott King. The widow of Martin Luther King had written to the Senate in 1986, warning against Reagan’s nominee as federal judge: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office [as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama] in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
Coretta Scott King: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters”
Wrote Dara Lind in Vox: “While other [Trump] Cabinet officials have gotten sucked into White House drama or caught in their own venal scandals, Sessions has generally kept his attention on doing his job,” i.e. to stop violations of immigration laws, in fact, stop immigration altogether.
More generally, Sessions, who comes from the United States’ “Deep South,” is obsessed with the “foreigner.” When talking about suspects, he asks: “Where is the person from? When officials tell him a suspect was born and lives in the United States, he typically has a follow-up: To what country does his family trace its lineage?”
It is noteworthy to mention here the controversy over the next census of 2020. From the beginning, the Trump administration has been wanting to introduce a new series of questions: namely whether the person was born in the United States, or Puerto Rico (which is U.S. territory!), or is a U.S. citizen. And, according to the testimony of John Gore, Acting Deputy Attorney General at the Civil Rights Division, Sessions “personally made the decision to direct DOJ not to even meet with the Census Bureau to discuss alternative approaches.”
Indeed, career officials at the Census Bureau are dismayed. “The decision ignored the advice of six former Census directors, multiple Census advisory committees, and even the Bureau’s own chief scientist, who agreed the question would jeopardize the accuracy of the 2020 enumeration (chiefly by discouraging immigrant communities from participating).” Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant and census expert who worked for Obama, noted that “The disregard for the scientific process is truly alarming.” We see the same tactics with the TPS where the administration ignored the advice of the professionals – in this case State Department career officials who reported on the conditions in Haiti – to make a purely political decision. And, as with the TPS, there are six lawsuits by 17 states challenging this new citizenship issue in the census.
In the case of the census, beyond being a racial obsession, the goal is to reduce the political weight of the certain regions – often urban with a Democrat majority – and favor those with a smaller population, fewer representatives in Congress, and less federal funds. It is estimated that “132 federal programs rely on census data to distribute more than $675 billion”.
The pretext that it is to strengthen the right to vote is false, says Vanita Gupta, who led the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and is now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. “That’s plainly a ruse to collect that data and ultimately to sabotage the census.”
Not only the experts are against the position of the administration and Jeff Sessions. When Ron Jarmin, the Acting Director of the Census Bureau, asked the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for help to add the citizenship question in the census, less than two hours later he received the answer: “None of my colleagues at AEI would speak favorably about the proposal.”
And yet the AEI is very conservative. But Sessions’s extremist views were not shared by the bulk of the Republicans where he was in a small minority … until the Trump administration came along and recruited him as Attorney General. And with him he brought his troupe, starting with his alter ego, Stephen Miller, a 33-year old who started with him out of college in 2009 when he was a Senator from Alabama, to become his chief communications advisor when Sessions entered Congress, sharing identical views on trade, Islam, and especially immigration. It was Miller who wrote the “Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority,” which helped Sessions torpedo a 2015 bipartisan Senate deal on comprehensive immigration reform in the House.
When Trump arrived on the political scene, Sessions propelled Miller to the tycoon saying: “When it comes to issues and messaging and policy, there isn’t anybody else that I’ve known that would be as valuable to a presidential campaign as he.” A far-right fanatic ideologue since high school, Miller is behind all of Trump’s anti-immigration laws: the travel ban for nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries, the separation of families on the U.S.-Mexico border, the wall on this same border, the dismantling of the asylum system, the hardening of immigration courts. And most recently, he is the one who introduced in the Jan. 19 Senate bill an additional burden for the TPS recipients: to prove that their job would not be “contrary to the national interest”!
A book just released on the Trump administration by a former official reports Miller’s illuminating words: “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil,” and his wish for a White House press release to be published every time a refugee or immigrant commits a “horrific” crime. Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International and former assistant secretary of state of the refugee bureau, says, “What principally concerns me is that we’ve gotten to the point where the U.S. government is so anti-refugee that even a bureau with the word ‘refugee’ in its name has to disappear. What a sad commentary on where we are right now.”
Senator Graham: “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we’re going nowhere”
No wonder then that South Carolina’s prominent Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee among others, said in January 2018: “Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by [White House] staff members. As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we’re going nowhere”, adding that Miller “has been an outlier for years.”
NATIVISTS IN COMMAND AT THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
One faithful assistant of both Sessions and Miller is Gene Hamilton, 35 years old, the one who wrote the memoranda ending DACA when he was senior advisor to acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke.
Hamilton started his career as a lawyer at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Atlanta in its legal section, the country’s toughest against immigrants. In February 2015, Hamilton moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the general counsel of Jeff Sessions, who was Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, newly renamed Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and National Interest.
There he worked on Sessions’ anti-migration policies while collaborating with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who was the chairman of this judiciary committee, and had the same hawkish immigration ideas. Grassley’s two assistants were Francis Cissna and Kathy Nuebel Kovarik. When Trump came to power, all three ended up at DHS in the spring of 2017, Cissna as Director of Immigration Services (USCIS), replacing Leon Rodriguez, our expert witness at the trial (2nd part), and Kovarik as head of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy.
We showed earlier how Kovarik put pressure on her staff at DHS to obtain negative data – including crime and public/private relief – on Haitian TPS. Cissna, meanwhile, a lawyer – and briefly a civil servant at the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince – was already (under anti-immigration Sen. Grassley) a hardliner on immigration, having sent at least 93 requests to DHS on immigration topics, to the point that then secretary Jeh Johnson, under Obama, wrote at the end of 2015 to Grassley “saying the inquiries were preventing his staff members from getting their work done. One November 2015 letter requested information ‘in precise detail’ on 250,000 immigrants — and gave the agency two weeks to respond. Some people at the agency found the letters to be especially hostile. They became very detailed, almost derogatory, letters with knowledge about agencies that an ordinary Hill staffer wouldn’t know about.” But Cissna was highly motivated and had previously worked at DHS.
“The Grassley letters written during Cissna’s tenure ‘exhibit an overall anti-immigrant view’,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell who studied them.
Back at DHS, now as the USCIS director, appointed by Trump – whose campaign he had joined as a volunteer – Cissna wasted no time in “transforming his agency into more of an enforcement body and less of a service provider.” We saw that he changed the mission of immigration services, no longer securing “America‘s promise as a nation of immigrants”, but administering “the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity … securing the homeland, and honoring our values.” Since the arrival of this zealous Trump servant, “it is more difficult for immigrants to enter the U.S. legally and stay once they’ve arrived.”
It is ironic to note that Cissna’s mother is a Peruvian immigrant, his mother-in-law emigrated to the U.S. as a Palestinian refugee in 1957, and he speaks Spanish to his two young children.
As for Stephen Miller, his great-grandfather, Sam Glosser, emigrated to the U.S. in 1906, fleeing violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced conscription into the Russian Tsar’s army.
(To be continued)