This might be low tide for Trump in terms of public support on this question, as evidenced by the difference between the Daily Beast’s and Quinnipiac’s polling. DB surveyed Americans on Thursday and Friday of last week and found Republicans tepid in support at 46/32, not even a majority. Quinnipiac, however, polled for two additional days — Thursday through Sunday — and found GOPers at 55/35. That’s probably because, as the issue has taken off in news coverage and Trump himself has begun to weigh in about it on Twitter, partisan wagons are beginning to be circled. As you’ll see below in Q’s numbers, Democratic opinion is already practically unanimous in opposition. Republican support still has plenty of room to grow as partisan lines harden, though.
But will it? With not one but two Republican first ladies criticizing it and some Republican pols like Ben Sasse attacking the administration over it, we may see GOPers paralyzed at loggerheads.
And as Liam Donovan notes, a policy that unites the other side while dividing your own is, almost by definition, bad politics.
Bad politics is sometimes a price worth paying for effective policy. Is the separation policy effective? Not so far, claims CNN. DHS documents written in early April predicted that the separation policy would start to deter illegal crossers within a few weeks. Instead the number of illegal border-crosses caught has increased slightly. (A year-to-year comparison should would have been nice in measuring how unusual that is.) Something needs to change for Trump, either the polling or the flow of illegal asylum-seekers, to justify him continuing in this manner. If it doesn’t he’ll have little choice but to retreat from the policy, especially with Republicans nervous about galvanizing Democrats so soon before the midterms. How might red-state Dems react if Republicans make ending the separation policy a key plank of the compromise immigration bill that’s currently kicking around in the House? Sixty votes in the Senate will be extremely difficult, especially with Trump publicly using the policy as leverage for an immigration deal, but it gives reluctant Dems like McCaskill and Donnelly a talking point if they sign on. “We ended child separation!”
Ben Sasse speaks for a lot of border hawks, I suspect, in arguing that (1) the separation policy is bad, (2) waaaaay too many people on the other side aren’t remotely interested in border enforcement, and (3) in a sane world we wouldn’t need to take sides between them. We shouldn’t have to choose between the Trump/Stephen Miller vision of traumatizing kids to put the fear of God into their parents and the Democratic model of open borders for all non-criminal “newcomers.” But that’s where we are in this stage of American decline:
1) Family separation is wicked. It is harmful to kids and absolutely should NOT be the default U.S. policy. Americans are better than this.
2) This bad new policy is a reaction against a bad old policy. The old policy was “catch-and-release.” Under catch-and-release, if someone made it to the border and claimed asylum (whether true or not, and most of the time it wasn’t true), they were released into the U.S. until a future hearing date. Many folks obviously don’t show up at these hearings, so this became a new pathway into the U.S.
What do liberal opponents of separation propose to do about Sasse’s second point? Concede that separation is bad policy and should be scrapped immediately. How do we further deter people, whether asylum-seekers or not, from crossing the border illegally? If the answer is “nothing,” how many border-crossers should we accept? If the answer is “as many as want to enter,” that sounds a lot like the open-borders side gets everything it wants while border hawks get nothing. Remember, Trump has already offered to amnestize upwards of two million DREAMers in return for the wall, reduced chain migration, and the end of the diversity visa lottery. No dice from Democrats. Where do you go if, like Sasse, you’re looking for a good-faith compromise on immigration but can’t find someone operating in good faith to deal with?
Here’s Trump defender Alan Dershowitz in a rare turn on Fox News begging POTUS to change course immediately. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is eating a mountain of crap today for tweeting last night that “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” That sounds like an out-and-out falsehood of the sort Trump’s been telling in claiming that the law as written compels him to separate children from parents. Nielsen’s tweet was part of a longer thread, though, in which she explained what she meant. It’s actually true that DHS doesn’t have a blanket policy of separation children from parents: If someone seeking asylum comes to a port of entry, as the law requires, parents and kids stay together. Only those who cross illegally in other spots get separated. And even then, many parents are apparently given an option to return home immediately with their children rather than be detained. (“The majority of those are free to return to the home country. Vast majority.”) The chief complaint of opponents of Trump’s policy right now is that DHS isn’t accepting enough people quickly enough at ports of entry, which supposedly leaves them no choice but to enter the country illegally. Once again: What limits on the flow of immigrants are we allowed to impose?