The Memo

The Memo: Raids to open new phase in Trump immigration war

President Trump backed down on a census citizenship question on Thursday, but his hard-line policies on immigration are about to enter a new phase.

Deportation raids in major cities are set to begin on Sunday, according to The New York Times. The raids, to be carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are expected to take place in at least 10 cities, with 2,000 people or more targeted.

Tensions over immigration are already inflamed because of conditions in detention camps near the southern border. Now, new images of family members being forcibly separated by ICE agents at their own doors could add fuel to the political fire.

{mosads}Though many in the GOP embrace the president’s approach, others are worried about the political impact. 

Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who has long argued that the GOP needs to adapt to a more diverse America, lamented that the proposed raids were “par for the recent course when it comes to efforts to expand the Republican coalition. It doesn’t help.”

Advocates of immigrant rights are outraged.

Frank Sharry — the founder and executive director of America’s Voice, which favors a more liberal approach on immigration — told The Hill that Trump “wants to terrorize immigrant communities … and he wants to burnish his brand that he is the tough guy that stands up to people of color.”

Similar raids had been proposed last month, only for Trump to back off at the last moment. But a change of heart seems unlikely this time.  

“I say, they came in illegally and we’re bringing them out legally,” he told reporters at the White House last week. 

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), have publicly emphasized the rights of people who might be targeted. 

Each of them has noted, for example, that ICE agents cannot enter a private home without consent unless they have a judicial warrant to do so.

The battles over the administration’s policies on immigration had been further roiled by Trump’s insistence that he wanted to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census — even after the Supreme Court had ruled against the administration on that topic.

He announced on Thursday afternoon that he was shelving those efforts. 

In remarks from the White House Rose Garden, he said that he would instead issue an executive order for all government departments to furnish information they had about numbers of citizens and noncitizens to the Department of Commerce, under whose auspices the census falls.

{mossecondads}Trump and Attorney General William Barr, who appeared with him, sought to put a brave face on the climbdown. 

Trump complained that Democrats wanted to conceal “the number of illegal aliens in our midst” as “part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen.”

Barr congratulated Trump on issuing the executive order and argued that the effort to add a citizenship question would ultimately have withstood court challenge — just not quickly enough to conduct the census on time.

“The impediment was a logistical impediment, not a legal one,” Barr said.

Advocates of reduced immigration have long defended a citizenship question as legitimate. 

The issue is so politically divisive in part because of how census data feeds into decisions about the apportionment of seats in Congress, as well as disbursement of public money.

“If you look at a state like California, there are three million people living there illegally,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which campaigns for a more stringent approach. 

Mehlman argued that this amounts to “four congressional seats that California has, as a result of having a large population of illegal aliens. And because it’s a zero-sum game, that means in other parts of the country, American citizens are not just losing out on representation, but also on federal funds.”

Democrats and immigrant advocates argue, however, that a citizenship question is “designed to scare off Latinos” from completing the census at all, as Sharry put it.

He asserted that people who lived in what are termed “mixed status” households — divided between people who are authorized to be in the country and others who are not — could easily be intimidated out of completing a census form at all, for fear of putting a loved one in danger.

Pelosi, meanwhile, declared herself “jubilant” that Trump had backed down. 

The citizenship question is just one part of the broader immigration issue, which will be huge in the 2020 campaign. 

Trump is holding fast to the approach that he believes worked for him in 2016, still promising to build his border wall and defending the detention camps, even as he gives the go-ahead for deportation raids.

Democrats believe he is wrong on the morals and on the politics.

2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released her own plan to liberalize the immigration laws on Thursday. In a tweet, Warren blasted the Trump administration for having “weaponized deportation in ways that are costly, ineffective and designed to maximize pain.” 

Polls suggest Democrats might have public opinion behind them. 

In a CNN/SSRS national poll conducted at the end of June, only 40 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of immigration, while 57 percent disapproved. An even higher percentage — 62 percent — disapproved of the way migrants at the southern border were being treated.

Backers of the president’s approach insist that there is hidden support for Trump’s plans — up to and including deportation raids.

“Obviously the administration needs to explain its rationale for doing this,” said Mehlman. “If you are in the country illegally and you have had your day in court, you have to abide by that.”

But others, even within the GOP, are sure that Trump’s insistence on driving a hard line carries costs that outweigh the gains.

“Anyone who finds ICE raids on otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants to be a positive is already firmly in the president’s camp,” said Ayres.

“He is not going to expand his coalition one iota by deporting otherwise law-abiding people.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren ICE Immigration raids Nancy Pelosi William Barr
See all Hill.TV See all Video