As almost everyone who did business with Donald Trump before he was elected will tell you, when it appears he is doing you a favor, there is always an ulterior motive to get him something he wants.
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That is how he operates as president, as well.
And it is absolutely the case with the executive order that the president issued today to end the practice of forced separation of immigrant parents and children, which was signed under intense pressure from both Republicans and Democrats, to try and silence those attacking his politics whose anger was causing a wave of bad publicity.
Even as he signed the order, Trump tacitly acknowledged that it cannot be enforced without permission from a federal court judge because it almost certainly will violate the Flores settlement, a 1997 consent order signed by the Clinton administration limiting how long minors can be held in detention to 20 days, whether alone or with a parent.
JUST IN: Senior Justice Department official Gene Hamilton confirms the Flores settlement still controls, and that unless Congress or the court acts, the government can only detain families together for "up to 20 days."
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) June 20, 2018
There is little chance that Congress will act promptly or the court will agree to change rules that have taken over 20 years to develop through multiple court cases and legal challenges.
“It’s very likely that this executive order will lead the government to violate the Flores settlement as it stands now,” reports Buzzfeed. “Trump’s solution is to tell (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions to ask the federal courts to amend the settlement to allow him to detain families together as long as needed.”
Trump and Sessions have been anxiously trying to get around or legislate away the Flores settlement without success and now see the public desire for a solution to the parent-child separation crisis as leverage to get the rules changed to what they want.
“Trump can’t overrule the Flores settlement with the stroke of a pen,” reports Vox. “But getting rid of the court agreement has been in his administration’s sights for months.”
It is a win-win for Trump’s anti-immigrant policies because if the court agrees, he can do what he wants to do, and if the court refuses as expected, he can blame them for having to keep thousands of kids locked up, which he expects will cool all the bad publicity.
“DOJ (the U.S. Department of Justice) confirms that the White House knows the President’s executive order is, in fact, illegal on its face,” reports Talking Points Memo. “What it does is set a 20-day countdown until Trump blames a court for forcing him to separate more families again.”
What Trump and Sessions want is the ability to hold immigrants who seek asylum in detention with their children for unlimited periods of time, and then process them together to save money by eliminating separate federal hearing for parents and children.
Here is the Trump family separation executive order and the passage activist groups will use to try to stop it. (The very same groups, BTW, who are today protesting separation.) https://t.co/4HWabc94Db pic.twitter.com/Kl63wZeaxL
— Byron York (@ByronYork) June 20, 2018
Trump’s executive order does not eliminate his “zero tolerance” policy or his decision to end America’s traditional open arms policy to troubled immigrants by refusing to consider offering asylum to anyone, no matter how dire or dangerous their situation.
Make no mistake: the President is doubling down on his ‘zero tolerance’ policy. His new Executive Order criminalizes asylum-seekers and seeks to indefinitely detain their children.
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) June 20, 2018
As such, even immigrants who obey the rules and come to the U.S. immigration authorities to seek asylum will be treated as criminals, which means the government claims the right to separate them from their children as unaccompanied minors – at least until they are tried by a federal court, which could take weeks or months.
“Trump’s executive order — which some in the press are reporting as a “reversal” or “relenting” on family separation — simply directs the administration to do the thing they said they couldn’t do: keep children along with their parents in immigration detention while the parents are prosecuted, and while the family’s immigration case is resolved,” reports Axios.
“The Trump administration is hoping this will result in their speedy deportation,” adds Axios, “but if not, it’s now willing to detain the family indefinitely.”
If that means thousands more being detained, the Trump plan is to first fill the detention camps. Then, as the new executive order prescribes, house immigrants on military bases and when that is exhausted, or just because they can, put those people in federal prisons, many run by highly profitable private companies that cut costs at every corner.
This violates the 20-year-old Flores decision that prohibits keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days. This executive order is not a victory, it is Donald Trump doubling-down on his Zero Tolerance policy. It's immoral, it's illegal, and it’s wrong.
— Erin Murphy (@epmurphymn) June 20, 2018
If Trump succeeds by court action, new DHS rules or legislation in getting rid of the Flores settlement, it would serve another purpose that they desire.
All the legal battles that led to the Flores settlement set specific rules on how children in detention are to be treated, and that doesn’t just mean they have to be fed and provided medical care.
Before Flores, kids would be locked up with unrelated male and female adults, leading to a lot of unhappy and inappropriate situations, but Flores ruled that illegal.
“Depending on what replaced Flores,” reports Vox, “it’s possible that ICE could simply use existing adult detention facilities to herd children into as well.”
What this means is that the order Trump signed today has no power under the law until one of those things happen – a court changes Flores, DHS passes new rules (a process that takes a long time) or legislation passes (which takes an even longer time).
What it does accomplish is to get the press, clergy, do-gooders and even his own family off Trump’s case at least for now, while Sessions goes right on arresting, processing, detaining and eventually deporting anyone who dares ask for asylum in America.
So now you get to feel what it was like to be one of the many contractors who worked on Trump properties over the years and never got paid, or got paid a fraction of what they were contracted to get, because, well, a deal with Trump is never really done until he finds a way to turn it to his advantage.