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What the Flores settlement really means

Donald Trump is at it again. Mad that he can’t simply circumvent a court settlement that protects the welfare and safety of migrant children, he is destroying through regulation the very court settlement that he does not want to abide by. 

The 1997 Flores Settlement decreed that migrant children could not be detained indefinitely, and when they had to be detained for more than 20 days, it had to be at facilities specifically designed for children or family detention. There are only two such facilities in the country. 

But this regulation goes deeper than Trump simply wanting to impose his will over a court decision. It goes to the heart of what he and his team believe will be key to his reelection. Make no mistake—through this rule, the administration is weaponizing the inhumane treatment of migrant children to signal to Trump’s base that he is taking the threat of “illegals” very seriously.

Trump aims to demonstrate that they are unwelcome in this country, no matter what circumstances they may be fleeing, and that they should not dare come to this country unless it is through legal channels, which incidentally he intends to make less and less accessible. 

This new regulation is yet another tool in Trump’s political arsenal to keep his anti-immigrant base energized and mobilized. This is especially the case since on the issue of immigration, Trump has been incapable of delivering on most of the hyperbolic promises he made to his base during the 2016 campaign. 

Trump promised he would build a wall at our southern border and that Mexico would pay for it. Trump has been unable to get the money needed for the wall and Mexico was never going to pay for it. 

He promised to curb illegal immigration, but there has been a spike in the number of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States looking for asylum — which is not technically illegal immigration because, by law, anyone can show up at our border and ask for asylum.  But Trump has been unable to stop people coming here and wanting to stay, and he has exacerbated the chaos at the border.

Trump has been unable to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants that are already here living and working, regardless of immigration raids that have left some U.S. citizen children crying for their parents as they found themselves alone when coming home from school.

As a result of these failures, Trump needed to double down on the heartless, divisive rhetoric that has been a hallmark of his campaign and presidency, referring to immigrants and Hispanics as “invaders,” “animals,” “gang members,” “criminals,” even laughing when a campaign-rally participant yelled “shoot them!” in answer to Trump’s question of what to do about “those people” coming to the United States. The country saw and mourned what happened soon after in El Paso, Texas.  

But rhetoric wasn’t enough. Trump has found the need to implement his hatred through regulation and executive order. That’s because any anti-immigrant legislation that he preferred wouldn’t be accepted by the Democratic-led House of Representatives. 

One of the first things he did while in office was to terminate the program known as DACA that protected Dreamers from deportation.

He has tried to push changes to legal immigration by proposing to drastically lower number of people allowed into the country through family reunification, derisively referred to by Trump as “chain migration,” and increasing the number of immigrants through merit — those who had specific skills or were highly educated. It was a non-starter with Democrats.

The administration drastically cut the number of refugees the United States will now take from troubled places around the world to a record low of 30,000 per year.  

Trump has publicly questioned why we need to take people from “shithole countries” and why we don’t take more people from Norway. 

The administration even went so far as to implement the separation of children from their parents as official policy as they crossed our southern border to deter asylum seekers or people coming here to seek a better life.

Trump is also once again flirting with the idea of getting rid of birth-right citizenship, which is an iron-clad constitutional right.  

Recently the Trump administration changed the requirements under the “public charge” provision that prospective green-card holders need to adhere to. The change would make it very difficult for anyone who had used public benefits like Medicare or Medicaid or food stamps or lived in public housing to obtain a green card, even when they had been legally entitled to use the public benefits. 

The new regulation to annul the Flores agreement would put migrant children in harm’s way, both emotionally and physically.

Seven children have died in the custody of DHS under President Trump’s watch. There will be more of these, undoubtedly, especially without the Flores safeguards.

Trump is attempting to change the face, heart and soul of the country simply for his own political benefit and to satisfy a small but critical part of his base that responds to and feeds on fear and loathing of immigrants. 

Trump believes demonizing immigrants is his only path to reelection. It worked in 2016. It backfired in 2018.

But as the 2020 election approaches, Trump and his campaign seem to believe it will be the only way to keep his base of older, rural, non-college-educated white voters engaged and energized.  

It will be up to all other Americans who believe this president does not represent the best of America to get rid of what has been the worst of America. That is our collective responsibility in 2020. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.



Tags border crisis DACA Donald Trump Flores Agreement Flores settlement illegal immigration Illegal immigration to the United States Immigration policy of Donald Trump

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