The irony of the Obama presidency is that its most enduring legacy might be the Great Wall of Trump. That's because President Obama made the fatal decision to
use up all his political capital in his first term on health care reform, which had zero Republican support and is unlikely to survive as written. And he neglected immigration reform, which had considerable Republican support and would have survived – obviating the need for the wall and the rest of Trump's immigration nonsense.
But now that we have President-elect Trump, exactly how aggressively will he pursue his draconian plans? As I noted before, his campaign agenda was plucked straight from the playbook of the nativist Center for Immigration Studies and its media acolyte, The National Review. He wants to build a big, beautiful wall on the Southern border and deploy thousands more agents to patrol it, deport millions of the undocumented along with their American families, scrap birthright citizenship, and rethink all economic immigration.
The hope of pro-immigration libertarians and others has been that once in office and confronted with the humanitarian horrors, economic downside and political backlash that this agenda would unleash, Trump would back off. He has an immigrant wife who possibly worked in the country illegally so the plight of the undocumented is not unknown to him. Before he announced his candidacy, he was a friend of immigration, even attributing Romney's loss to his harsh restrictionist talk. And there was that brief moment during his campaign, after all, when he seemed to be softening and even backing off from his opposition to "amnesty." It made Ann Coulter apoplectic, but Rush Limbaugh and, if memory serves, even Sean Hannity were willing to hop on board the Trump amnesty train so his base is malleable on the issue. Furthermore, the political upside to enacting his harsh agenda is small given that "building a wall" is at the rock bottom of the priorities of GOP voters, below repealing Obamacare, fighting ISIS, tax reform, and building infrastructure. Hence, it would make political sense for him to make some cosmetic fixes to appease the more reasonable parts of base, say screw you to the alt-righters and call it a day.
And there is a chance that things may still work out that way. The task of governing can have a sobering effect, after all, at least on normally constituted humans. But the first signs emanating from the Trump Tower are not promising.
For starters, Trump singled out arch-restrictionist Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for praise in his victory speech. Sessions has done more than any human alive to torpedo every sensible immigration reform effort and makes no bones about his wish to basically stop all immigration. He moves the goalposts on reform constantly, recently even calling for the elimination of the H-1B visa program for foreign techies, which sent chills down the IT sector's spine. Yet Trump described Sessions as a "great man"– signaling that Sessions has both his ear and a cabinet appointment, possibly as attorney general where he'll be in a position to inflict maximum terror on immigrants. Worse, just this afternoon he shook up his transition team to offer Rick Dearborn, Sessions chief of staff in his Washington office, the role of transition director, demoting Chris Christie and further elevating Sessions influence in his inner circle.
But even more chilling is Trump's naming Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an alt-right hero, to his transition team this afternoon. Kobach, who is a "one-stop shop" for restrictionist lawmakers, is the architect of Arizona's draconian SB 1070—"your papers please" legislation – that basically gives authorities an open invitation for racial profiling in order to ferret out illegals. Kobach was also behind Trump's plan to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it by threatening to stop remittances, even though it would mean wrapping some banks in huge amounts of red tape. For example, money-transfer companies such as Western Union would have to verify the identity and lawful presence in America of any individual—foreigner or citizen, legal or illegal—who wants to remit money anywhere in the world.
The prospect of Kobach as DHS secretary and Sessions as AG or some such combination will strike terror in the heart of the Latino community. The near certainty that the duo would scrap DAPA and DACA – Obama's executive orders that offered DREAMers, illegals brought to America as minors, and their parents' temporary relief from deportation – is bad enough. The bigger fear, however, is that they'd use the identity information gleaned through these programs to hunt down illegals and deport them. Many of them are likely to get fake identity documents and melt away in the informal economy to avoid this fate.
Exactly that fear is also haunting New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. He announced today that he would destroy city databases containing personal information of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in New York City to keep them from being abused by Donald Trump and his administration.
Such acts of civil disobedience will only grow if Trump proceeds with his deportation plans. Facing the dilemma of having to choose between obeying the law or obeying their humanity, Americans will choose humanity.
So let's hope Trump doesn't go there.
P.S. For more tea-leaf reading of Trump's immigration plans, read Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh's post here.