Saturday, April 13, 2019 | 2 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — Before we talk about President Donald Trump and the U.S.-Mexico border, let’s catch up on the contradictions.
Having been elected president in large part because he promised to take charge and end illegal immigration, Trump is now in retreat. Whereas he once boasted that border crossings were down, Trump now claims that the border is being overrun by a “colossal surge” that he can’t stop. While normally critical of outsourcing, he is trying to pass on the job of ending illegal immigration to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Also, while Trump has bashed repressive countries for stifling freedom, and last year reversed the Obama administration’s policy to open up relations with Cuba, Trump now wants other Latin America countries to lock their doors and hold their own people hostage, denying them one of the most basic freedoms — freedom of movement. Lastly, for someone who rails against the snooty coastal elites while courting working-class voters in the Rust Belt, Trump becomes quite the elitist when deciding who gets to enter the United States and who gets turned away.
It’s odd. For someone who can’t stop talking about immigration and who clearly intends to put it front and center in his bid to win re-election, the president is constantly showing the world just how little he understands the subject matter.
For instance, Trump seems to have mistaken America for one of his luxury hotels. When he decides that many undesirables are coming in, he simply hangs out a sign announcing: “No Vacancy.”
He fails to grasp the complexities of illegal immigration, and he never talks about what fuels it: the hiring habits of U.S. employers. In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump bragged that he could change our country’s immigration laws in only “15 minutes.” And after threatening to close the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border with the stroke of a pen, he had to back off when business leaders schooled him on the dangers of jeopardizing more than $1.7 billion in daily cross-border trade and retail spending.
Also, did Trump really oust Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for not stopping something that has happened for centuries — people crossing borders in search of a brighter tomorrow, even if it means doing so without an invitation?
If Trump thinks it’s fair to force out the secretary of homeland security for not stopping illegal immigration, what’s next? Dismissing the secretary of housing and urban development for not ending homelessness? Canning the secretary of defense for not ending terrorism? Or getting rid of the attorney general for not ending crime? Pick your impossible task.
Trump also seems confused about who is immigrating — and what they bring to this country. First, the president accuses Mexico of “not sending their best.” Then, he laments that so many of the people taken in by the United States come from what he calls “s---hole countries.” And just last week, he complained that nations in Central America are not “giving us their finest.”
What Trump doesn’t understand is that America isn’t a selective Ivy League university that you can get your kid into if your check has enough zeros. Rather, it’s a colony of bruised people with broken dreams. It’s the land of second chances, where the poor and the desperate go when “Plan A” didn’t pan out. It’s the last stop for the unskilled and uneducated, the cheated and mistreated, the unconnected and unprotected.
The rich and famous don’t usually come here. In fact, those folks tend not to leave their home countries because things are going well for them there. You don’t leave a slot machine that is spitting out silver dollars.
But here’s the twist. America always gets the best and the finest — the risk takers, the hard workers, the dreamers, the optimists. We get the brave and the sturdy. The weak, the timid, and the dependent will often stay behind.
This was true with the English, Irish, Italians and Jews. It’s true with the Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans.
It’s the American story. The only difference is skin color. Unfortunately, that’s all some people see.
Life is funny. If Trump and his elitism were running the U.S. immigration system in 1885 when his grandfather emigrated from Germany in what historians suggest was an attempt to avoid military service, Friedrich Trump might have been denied entry because he was thought to be of inferior stock.
There would be no Donald Trump. What a pleasant thought.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for The Washington Post.