Catherine Rampell: Trump’s immigration policies speak louder than his racist, xenophobic words

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. A federal appeals court has given the Trump administration a rare legal win in its efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities. In a 2-1 decision Friday, July 12, 2019, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Justice Department was within its rights to give priority status for multimillion-dollar community policing grants to departments that agree to cooperate with immigration officials. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP, File)

Vile, chilling, dangerous and life-threatening.

These words cannot adequately describe the Trump rally chants of “send her back,” referring to a U.S.-citizen congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who immigrated from Somalia as a child refugee; or the presidential tweets that inspired this chant, suggesting that Omar as well as three native-born U.S.-citizen congresswomen of color should all be deported. (On Thursday, President Trump said he “wasn’t happy” with the chants at the Wednesday rally.)

Such racist, xenophobic rhetoric has inspired a lot of (deserved) outrage. But did Americans really need to hear these words to know that Trump considers immigrants and brown people to be subhuman? The actual policies his administration has been undertaking should have left no doubt.

Consider just a few developments this week alone, several of which have gotten scant media coverage.

Last weekend, roughly around the time of those notorious tweets, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was expected to begin rounding up undocumented immigrants — including some who were never properly notified about their immigration court hearings — in raids in at least nine major cities. Frightened families went into hiding — in their homes, secret rooms, churches. The raids were not as widespread as expected, but lingering terror continues to sap economic activity around the country.

Then on Monday, as the news media and public were consumed by those same tweets, the Trump administration announced a sweeping attack on asylum seekers.

The new rule, which went into effect the following day, bars protection for immigrants who failed to apply for asylum in at least one country they passed through before crossing into the United States. It is intended to close the door to large numbers of Central Americans fleeing persecution, effectively sending them back to perilous conditions in their home countries or in Mexico.

This rule violates both domestic and international laws, including a decades-old agreement put into place partly to preclude a repeat of the world's shameful treatment of Holocaust refugees. It guts our entire asylum system by extralegal fiat and was immediately challenged in court. A court had already blocked a similar, more limited Trump asylum ban late last year.

We're not done yet.

On Wednesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — the agency tasked with processing applications for legal immigration — asked its staffers to drop their congressionally assigned duties and agree to work in ICE field offices around the country instead, according to an email leaked to BuzzFeed.

There, USCIS employees would, among other things, facilitate a program forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their U.S. cases are adjudicated — yet another policy being challenged in court for violating U.S. immigration law.

Sadly, this week is not an aberration.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security sent its draft final regulation of the “public charge” rule to the White House for final review. This rule would make it more difficult for immigrants who’ve used noncash safety-net services to which they are legally entitled — or who are deemed at risk of ever using such services — to receive green cards or temporary visas.

The proposed rule already seems to be having a chilling effect on usage of benefits such as food stamps and health insurance by both immigrants and their U.S.-citizen children, even though it hasn't yet gone into effect (and may never do so, as it, too, is likely to be challenged in court).

Earlier this month, the Justice Department submitted its own companion rule to the White House for initial review. That rule, whose text has not yet been made public, would reportedly make it easier to deport green-card holders who had — once again, legally — ever used safety-net benefits. Refugees may also be at risk.

This is just a partial summary of anti-immigrant actions taken this month. It doesn't include the forced family separation policy that began more than a year ago and resulted in at least 18 infants and toddlers as young as 4 months old being ripped from their parents; or the filthy conditions in which immigrant children have been confined, without toothbrushes or soap, some for weeks at a time; or the administration's choice — and it is a choice — to detain people in inhumane conditions while they wait for their cases to be adjudicated, rather than releasing them; or, of course, Trump's attempts to bar all Muslim immigrants from U.S. soil.

By all means, we must continue to condemn Trump's virulently bigoted rhetoric. But we never needed him to talk the talk to know what he thinks. He's long been walking the walk.

Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.