The president who decided that crimes committed by two prominent Republican allies shouldn’t really be crimes at all is, in fact, all about law and order, his press secretary insisted Sunday.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders was repeatedly quizzed about reports that President Donald Trump encouraged his head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to break the law by promising to pardon him for it later. In interviews with Fox News and ABC News, she insisted Trump would never do such a thing because of his deep commitment to the law.
“The president is actually the president trying to enforce laws, not go around them,” Huckabee Sanders told ABC’s George Stephanopoulous, adding that “no one’s trying to skirt the law and certainly not being encouraged by the president to do so.” She used similar language with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, labeling Trump “a person and a president of law and order.”
Neither host forced her to square that claim with the president’s actual conduct in office. Trump has twice so far broken out the big legal eraser at his disposal for people who committed crimes that he likes.
Though she projected surprise that anyone could think her boss would offer up criminal-court mulligans to people willing to do what he wants, one of his first major acts in office was directly analogous to his reported offer to CBP head and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan last week.
Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court in 2017, but let off the hook one month later by a Trump pardon. Arpaio’s crime was flouting another court order to cease using racial profiling in immigration patrol work. Trump reportedly sought a similar criminal defiance in the name of being tough on migrants when he met with McAleenan days ago, though the White House insists he did not propose a pardon quid-pro-quo.
Arpaio is a longtime avatar of the same sort of naked cruelty toward migrants that animates Trump policies like family separation. Another member of the Donald Trump mutual fanclub – right-wing agitprop attack-dog Dinesh D’souza – was also found guilty of a crime, only to have Trump pardon him.
Trump’s most prominent mouthpiece exhibited a similarly convenient forgetfulness when pressed about her boss’s stated desire to ship detained migrants from holding pens in border towns to inland jurisdictions that have established “sanctuary city” policies restricting local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration officials.
“[T]he big thing we have to look at here is how do we stop this from being a problem in the first place. We shouldn’t have to be putting people and moving them all across the country to spread that out,” Huckabee Sanders told Wallace, after affirming that Trump is looking to shuffle the people he’s ordering detained into specific jurisdictions helmed by people who disagree with him about immigration policy.
“They can either deal with it at the border and stop it from getting worse, or they’re gonna have to take on some of the burden in their communities if that becomes an option,” she said on ABC.
Again, neither host bothered to point out the spokeswoman’s revisionist history, allowing her to profess an interest in “how…we stop this from being a problem in the first place” without noting that it’s a problem entirely of Trump’s own making.
Until 2017, U.S. immigration authorities allowed the non-citizens they encountered to figure out for themselves where they should spend the years-long lag between when they arrived in the U.S. and when the backlogged immigration system had scheduled time to evaluate their claims to legal status to remain in the country.
Such practices allowed people to land where their personal networks and ambitions and opportunities dictated, giving those awaiting a hearing a much better chance to find the financial and psychological stability that everyone needs to be a positive and productive member of a community. They augured against the kind of desperation and isolation that can drive people to the fringes of the law and make them easier prey for the malevolent alternative family structures offered by criminal organizations.
Anti-immigration hardliners derisively labeled this common-sense policy “catch-and-release.” Trump and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions took immediate aim at that longstanding practice, seeking to hold as many migrants as possible in detention centers throughout their long waits for an asylum evaluation or other status review.
That push has repeatedly run afoul of those same laws Huckabee Sanders insists Trump reveres. But his actions have nonetheless changed the look and feel of migration’s civic impact. This administration has artificially reshaped the flow of human lives through the immigration enforcement system and created the very same build-up of undocumented migrants in border communities that Huckabee Sanders lamented. To whatever extent the conditions there constitute a crisis, it’s one of this White House’s own making.
Of course, acknowledging that would force Trump’s top press official to admit that the sanctuary-city resettlement idea is a willful politicization of human lives.
On Sunday, she was much more comfortable insisting otherwise – and pretending that sanctuary city policies can be completely decoupled from the old “catch-and-release” stability-oriented system under which they were crafted.
“The president likes the idea. Democrats have said they want these individuals into their communities,” she said on ABC. “So let’s see if it works and everybody gets a win out of it.”