WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took his anti-immigrant policies to new levels Monday with a sweeping ban on asylum-seekers while ramping up 1950s-style racist attacks on four members of Congress.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, defended his series of tweets Sunday and Monday, claiming that they were not racist at all, and then repeated his invitation for the Democrats — all women, all American citizens, three born in the United States — to leave. “If somebody has a problem with our country, if somebody doesn’t want to be in our country, they should leave,” he said. “You can leave right now.”
New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Latino; Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib are Muslim; and Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley is black. All four have become favorite targets for Trump in recent weeks.
One anti-immigration activist said Trump’s rhetoric would go over well with many of his supporters but was designed to distract from his failures on the issue. “More illegal aliens are entering America than ever before on President Trump’s watch because of Trump’s broken campaign promises and presidential directives and policies,” said William Gheen of the group Americans for Legal Immigration.
Trump during his presidential run promised to force Mexico to build a wall along its border with the United States and claimed he was the only Republican capable of ending illegal immigration. Since taking office, though, Trump has not even once requested that Mexico pay for a wall, and has tried to raid billions of dollars from the military budget to pay for it, instead.And the number of illegal border crossings under Trump has spiked to the highest level in a dozen years.
“That’s why we call him ‘Talker Trump’ and ‘Do Nothing Don,’” Gheen said.
Meanwhile, the legality of the new rule, which is to take effect Tuesday, remains unclear.
“Today’s rule is blatantly intended to slam the door on the vast majority of those seeking asylum from Central America, and I suspect the courts will have something to say about that,” said Bill Weld, a former top lawyer at the Justice Department and now a Republican challenger to Trump for the 2020 nomination. “The legal and moral obligation to welcome those legitimately seeking asylum in the U.S. is part of our basic fabric. How many of us are here today because our ancestors at some point made a difficult journey here to find better lives or to escape very real dangers?”
An existing law sets forth the process for would-be asylum-seekers, which matches up with international treaties that the United States has signed. It permits foreign nationals seeking asylum in the United States to present themselves at a port of entry. The Trump administration’s new rule requires them to seek asylum from the first country they are traversing en route to the United States.
“They can create these bans, but they can’t go against the will of Congress or, of course, the Constitution,” said Sarah Pierce, a lawyer with the Migration Policy Institute.
The United States has such a “safe third country” agreement with Canada, but not with either Mexico or Guatemala – despite Trump’s attempts to persuade those countries to agree to one. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, in fact, was scheduled to appear with Trump on Monday to announce such an agreement, but then backed out at the last minute after opposition to the idea mounted in Guatemala.
Pierce said challenges to Trump’s new rule could very well succeed or just as easily fail. “I think it will very much depend on the judge and the circuit,” she said. “It’s the first time we’re seeing an issue like this.”
Trump’s White House said that most asylum-seekers are not eligible for it, and blamed Democrats in Congress for not helping to change laws to make asylum harder to claim. “If you are fleeing an oppressive government and have a legitimate claim to asylum, then you will receive it, but about 90 percent of these claims are proven fraudulent in court,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said. “So, while Congress refuses to act, we’re looking at all available legal options to bring integrity back to the system and protect the American people.”
Trump himself, meanwhile, focused less on the rule change and more on his attacks against Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley. Responding to reporters’ questions on the South Lawn at the White House Monday, Trump launched into a 10-minute rant against the women, accusing them of not loving the country, of hating Jews, and of costing jobs for New York City by opposing tax incentives for online retailer Amazon.
Asked whether it bothered him that he was finding common ground with white nationalists with his attacks, Trump replied: “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
Trump has openly and cheerfully appealed to racists and nativists since his false 2011 claims questioning the first black president’s religion and country of birth. In the speech announcing his own candidacy in 2015, Trump called Mexican migrants “rapists” and “drug dealers.” And during his two and a half years in office, Trump has said there were “good people” among the neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville in 2017 and reportedly called Haiti and nations in Africa “shithole countries” in 2018.