Trump's war on immigration, it seems, is encountering a mounting insurrection. That's to be expected given the scope of his administration's actions against peaceable immigrants.
The Department of Homeland Security
spokesman James Schwab quit this week declaring that he does not want to participate in the administration's campaign of lies.
The whole thing started last month when the president berated the mayor of Oakland, California, Libby Schaaf, for thwarting a four-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweep by issuing a public warning that the raid was coming.
Trump called Schaaf a "disgrace" and claimed that had it not been for her missive, ICE would have caught a majority of the 1,000 people it was looking for rather than a mere 232. Furthermore, he alleged, that most of these folks were criminals and Schaaf's actions had endangered public safety. Attorney General Jeff Sessions piled on as well. "How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open borders agenda?," he thundered.
As it turns out, Schwab too is no fan of mayor Schaaf's actions, even openly calling them "misguided." However, he believes that the administration's claims were totally false and didn't want any part in spreading them. "I didn't feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against [the mayor's] actions was the way to go about it," Schwab commented. "We were never going to pick up that many people," he maintained. Nor were 100 percent of unauthorized aliens "dangerous criminals" as the administration touted, he said.
In fact, as ICE later fessed up, only five of the 864 who managed to escape the dragnet had been convicted of serious crimes. Of the 232 people arrested, 115, or just under half, had "prior felony convictions for serious and violent offenses" or past convictions for "significant or multiple misdemeanors." The other half had no criminal history at all.
Yet ICE insisted that all of them were fair game because they were "in violation of immigration law."
This statement goes to the heart of the restrictionist case for a harsh enforcement regime, namely, that undocumented immigrants are law-breakers who deserve to have the book thrown at them. If individuals are allowed to simply pick and choose which laws they want to obey and which they want to ignore, the thinking goes, the country will collapse into mayhem and chaos. So it doesn't matter if the rule of law is good or bad, it needs to be enforced.
The trouble with this argument is that it fails to consider the law-and-order consequences of trying to enforce inhumane and irrational laws.
When laws are just and sensible they are for the most part self-enforcing because the vast majority of people obey them automatically. Indeed, most people don't go around killing, stealing, pillaging and raping. So authorities have to go after only an infinitesimally small subset of violators, which in functioning polities is a manageable task.
However, when laws are arbitrary and unjust, they lack an automatic majority buy-in and two things happen: Either people become indifferent to these laws and don't care if they are enforced (even when they don't actively oppose them they can't muster too much enthusiasm for them)—or they actually profit from subverting them.
Consider alcohol bans: Non-drinkers may or may not mind laws against drinking, but they would have to be real moral zealots to turn in fellow citizens who happen to enjoy a dry martini. Most people just aren't such dicks. So, contrary to, say, murder or theft, crimes that have actual victims, authorities cannot rely on spontaneous compliance or cooperation to enforce such bans. They have to resort to an ever more elaborate enforcement apparatus to launch witch hunts. Their use of force inevitably becomes disproportionate and therefore itself lawless.
And as law enforcement becomes draconian it spawns resistance.
That's the stage we are approaching under Trump on immigration. Indeed, he is cueing up a moral showdown not unlike the one that America saw in the run up to Civil War when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, as I have noted previously. Just as this act requiring Northern states to return fleeing slaves to their Southern masters generated a massive abolitionist backlash, Trump's anti-immigrant jihad is provoking widespread resistance.
Indeed, the Oakland mayor is not the only one now openly flouting and subverting Trump's draconian immigration designs. That's what the entire sanctuary movement is all about. Schaaf's actions are no doubt calculated to promote her political interests—just as Trump's are calculated to promote his. But the difference is that as Trump escalates his use of state violence against peaceful individuals, the moral high ground is increasingly on the side of Schaaf-style "resistance."
Even before Trump took office, Obama's immigration crackdowns were triggering an incipient sanctuary movement with four states and 300 municipalities declaring themselves sanctuary jurisdictions. Since Trump, these entities have proliferated even more. Indeed, health centers, college campuses, and even transit lines such as BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) have declared that they will not assist with federal immigration enforcement actions. Sanctuary churches offering shelter to undocumented aliens facing deportation have doubled from 400 to 800 under Trump.
Imagine how different their response would have been if the feds were trying to apprehend actual terrorists or serial killers. Or what the public reaction would have been at such non-cooperation. That's why Trump and Sessions are straining so mightily to convince everyone that illegal immigrants are bad hombres and criminals.
But the fact that they have to try to convince people demonstrates the weakness of their case. The fact of the matter is that the very act of enforcing a bad rule of law undermines it. Ultimately, it loses. The question only is how long that takes and how many innocent lives are ruined in the interim.