- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2019

President Trump kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign on Tuesday by returning to the same issue he began with as he descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York four years ago: the threat from immigration.

The president this week issued a vague promise that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin deporting “millions of illegal aliens” next week, sending Democrats running to television cameras to denounce him and leaving analysts scratching their heads over what he was talking about.

Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House before jetting off to Florida for his campaign rally, insisted that Department of Homeland Security officials are aware of his plans — “they know, they know,” he said — though he declined to reveal more.

“You’re going to find out,” he said.

His threats sparked traumatic flashbacks for his opponents, who watched him wield immigration in the 2016 election, taking the most pro-enforcement stance of any candidate in modern political history en route to a stunning victory.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the president’s deportation promise was “utter malice and bigotry, designed solely to inject fear in our communities.”

She and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the threats reminded them of the administration’s now-defunct zero-tolerance border policy, which led to thousands of children being separated from their parents as the adults ended up in the criminal justice system facing prosecution.

Mr. Schumer said he doubts Mr. Trump meant what he was saying.

“One day he says one thing, he says the next, and it makes the crisis worse, not better. He’s not solving it; he’s making it worse,” Mr. Schumer said.

He also questioned the political wisdom of Mr. Trump’s move, saying the president tried to gin up fears of border chaos ahead of the 2018 election only to have his party surrender control of the House.

“He created a big border crisis before the November ‘18 elections. It didn’t do much good,” Mr. Schumer said.

The issue, however, looks significantly different today from what it did eight months ago in the heat of the congressional campaign.

The number of illegal immigrants caught by Border Patrol agents has soared from about 50,000 in October to more than 130,000 last month.

Democrats who refused to use the word “crisis” now embrace it — though they disagree on the solutions.

Although Mr. Trump still talks about his border wall plans, the battleground now is over money and policy changes, and the president has gained some unlikely allies.

The New York Times has endorsed Mr. Trump’s request for an emergency infusion of cash to help care for the children and families at the border, leaving Democrats on the defensive.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer have said they can agree to some of the president’s $4.5 billion request, though they have been shy about getting into specifics publicly.

Their left flank, though, is warning them against embracing too much of Mr. Trump’s request, fearful of finding areas of agreement with a man they loathe.

On Tuesday, immigrant rights activists called for resistance to Mr. Trump’s deportation threat.

“Our community will not coward [sic] and allow him to terrorize and raid our neighborhoods,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, which begged state and local police to refuse to cooperate in any ICE deportations.

The American Civil Liberties Union told illegal immigrants to exercise their right to remain silent and to refuse to open the door to ICE officers who don’t have a judicial warrant.

The vehement opposition came even though it’s not clear what Mr. Trump has in mind.

ICE has never deported more than 500,000 people in a year, much less the “millions” the president envisions, and Republicans on Capitol Hill were miffed by the president’s promises.

“I don’t know any more than I’ve read,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Should Mr. Trump make immigration a signature issue again in 2020, he will have to alter his rhetoric.

His vow that Mexico would pay for his border wall has fallen by the wayside — and his vision now looks substantially different from the 2,000-mile concrete wall that grew higher each time Mexican officials squealed.

He acknowledged as much Tuesday, telling the crowd in Orlando, “I changed the design. It’s stronger, bigger, better and cheaper.”

In fact, the mileage has been slashed and the cost is far higher than the fencing built in the Bush and Obama administrations. Yet he can point to some new mileage that has been built, putting him on the path toward his campaign promise.

During his 2015 campaign kickoff, he declared Mexican migrants “rapists” and said they were bringing crime and drugs to the U.S.

Mr. Trump now praises Mexican leaders after securing a deal for Mexico to step up its own border security and to hold on to tens of thousands of migrants while their immigration cases are processed in the U.S.

The Associated Press reported this week that Mexican officials said their southern border, which had been running at more than 4,000 migrants crossing a day, was down to 2,600.

“Mexico has been doing a very good job the last four days. They haven’t done that in 25 years,” Mr. Trump said.

He even praised Guatemala, a country he had been harshly critical of in previous months.

Instead, his ire is aimed at congressional Democrats, who he says are more uncooperative than Mexico.

“The Democrats should get together and solve the asylum problem, which is very easy to solve. And they should solve the loophole problem, also very easy to solve,” he said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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