Commentary/Statement Of Sen. Patrick Leahy On The Caravan/Birthright Citizenship/Troops To Southern Border

The President Doubles Down On Diversion, Demagoguery And Demonization

By Patrick Leahy

Unable to credibly defend his corporate tax giveaways or Republicans’ unending zeal to strip healthcare and coverage of pre-existing conditions from millions of Americans, President Trump, one week ahead of an election that could place a check on his presidency, is returning to a familiar playbook: deploying demagoguery to distract and divide us. This time by using a caravan of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers a thousand miles from our border as scapegoats to foment irrational fears and rally his most ardent believers.

Now, in an interview betraying his casual disregard for — or ignorance of — our Constitution, he has even vowed to sign an executive order to end birthright citizenship for children of non-citizens born in the U.S. This form of citizenship is explicitly enshrined in the 14th Amendment and cannot be undone by presidential fiat. But President Trump doesn’t understand that, or care to, as he has apparently decided that flippantly threatening to upend the Constitution to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment is good politics.

And this constitutionally suspect proposal came just after President Trump began implementing another legally suspect and wasteful policy: sending an additional 5,000 active-duty military personnel, some of them armed, as part of a force of more than 7,000 troops at our southern border. This is despite a century-old U.S. law that prevents using our military to directly enforce our domestic laws. This deployment — which comes at the expense of millions of taxpayer dollars, and an uncertain impact on our military readiness — might satisfy the President’s ego but not much else, given all the restrictions on what the military can legally do in support of our law enforcement authorities at the border.

So what is motivating the President to casually disregard the Constitution and misuse and waste military resources with a symbolic — and inappropriate — deployment of soldiers with weapons? According to him, all it took was a few thousand desperate families, forming a makeshift “caravan,” traveling on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs, hoping to file asylum claims in our country. These men, women, and children — whose numbers have dwindled — are still nearly a thousand miles and several weeks away from our border, if they ever reach the border at all.

Their struggle would be unrecognizable to our President. Since the day he was born, President Trump has lived a life of luxury and extravagance. He has never been hungry or had to worry that he could not feed his children. He has never feared that a gang member wielding a machete or gun might threaten to kill him if he did not hand over one of his daughters. He has never remotely been faced with the wrenching decision to abandon his home and country in search of refuge from gang violence and persecution.

His response to the caravan has been predictable — utterly devoid of empathy, logic, and facts. Demonize them. Without even the pretense of evidence, call them gang members and criminals. Without an iota of proof, label them “Middle Easterners,” as though anyone born there is automatically a threat to us. Warn of an imminent “onslaught,” “invaders,” an “assault on our country,” and a “national emergency,” even though many of them are mothers with infants and toddlers. Exploit them for political gain by embracing far-right conspiracy theories and, as he always does, blame the Democrats even though his party controls all branches of government.

If President Trump were serious about finding solutions instead of scapegoats, he would increase aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to address the chief causes of emigration from these countries — aid that Republicans and Democrats in Congress provided — not threaten to cut it, as he has done. If he were serious about finding answers, he would work with the Mexican government to provide food and shelter to these migrants where they are — not demand billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for the costly stunt of symbolically walling off our southern border, which would take years and do nothing to address the causes of migration. And he would work with Mexico and Central American governments to greatly expand their capacity to process these migrants’ asylum claims within those countries to prevent them from making the arduous journey north — not threaten to jettison our landmark asylum laws that have protected religious, ethnic and other persecuted refugees for generations, as he has done.

But President Trump, true to character, is not interested in serious solutions. He is cynically determined to foment hysteria and wield fear to change the subject away from issues that Americans truly care about in their daily lives. Such as protecting current coverage of pre-existing conditions in their health insurance plans. Such as their opposition to Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security. Such as ending a self-inflicted trade war that in a matter of weeks has erased this year’s stock market gains. He seemingly will stop at nothing to change the subject away from the fact that his administration is doing great harm to the policies and values that Americans actually care deeply about.

Americans should not be frightened or fooled. We should not allow President Trump’s fact-free fearmongering to distract us. For the sake of protecting the rule of law that defines us, for the sake of safeguarding our identity as a nation of immigrants and refugees, and for the sake of preserving our dignity as the most powerful democracy in the world, we must reject President Trump’s desperate demagoguery. We are the United States of America. Let’s act like it, even if our President will not.

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[Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee and a leading member of the Judiciary Committee.]

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