If you thought President Donald Trump’s public behavior and rhetoric surrounding immigration was bad, wait until you hear what CNN’s Jake Tapper shares Trump has been saying and doing behind the scenes. Over recent weeks and months, he has been trying to get various officials to go around the law and abruptly impose drastic measures like the closure of the El Paso, Texas-area border crossing within 24 hours of his order and the reinstitution of the zero tolerance policy towards asylum seekers that included family separations, among other steps. An attendee at a recent White House meeting including a broad array of officials told CNN that Trump took to “ranting and raving” and asserting border security was “his issue.”
That would explain his apparent incessant attempts to impose his will on the United States’ immigration system no matter what the law states.
During his recent trip down to the southern border, he reportedly went so far that he tried to get border agents to deny entry to any and all migrants without any order going through the proper channels. His behavior left the agents’ superiors the job of informing them that they were still bound by the law and if they followed the president’s orders, they would be incurring personal liability. Trump had explicitly admonished them to violate judicial orders, asserting:
‘Tell them we don’t have the capacity. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”‘
It’s still not entirely clear what the president is getting at with his claim that there is no more room in the United States. It’s true that immigration authorities have been dealing with detention capacity issues in the face of a surge of asylum seekers, which has led to situations like immigrants detained in a chain link enclosure under a highway overpass in El Paso. However, that’s not what the president’s seemingly getting at. He seems to want no one to come into the United States from Central America, period.
To that end, before heading down to the southern border, he tried to get the now former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to herself completely stop accepting any asylum seekers at all. She had to explain the law that demands asylum seekers be accepted, along with the issues that would surround separating any and all asylum-seeking families that did arrive at the border, which Trump wanted as an expansion of the previous zero tolerance policy.
At a White House meeting in recent weeks, after the aforementioned “ranting and raving,” the president reportedly sought to have authorities close the El Paso border crossing at noon the very next day and had to again be talked down, which this time apparently fell to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
A senior administration official summed up the president’s most recent behind-the-scenes behavior surrounding immigration policy:
‘At the end of the day, the President refuses to understand that the Department of Homeland Security is constrained by the laws.’
That’s not exactly a reassuring description for the president of the United States. That office holder shouldn’t need to have lower-level officials follow after them to cover for their attempts at illegal policy implementations.