President Trump can be counted on to discredit even a legitimate issue, as he did last week at a White House meeting by joking about the absence of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, whom he had summoned to praise, along with other mayors, for their work on transportation issues.
“Toni Harp. Where's Toni? Toni? Toni?," Trump said, adding, "Uh, can't be a sanctuary city person. That's not possible, is it?”
Of course, Harp is the mayor of the most brazen sanctuary city in the country and, having learned a few hours earlier of the Trump administration's new demand for immigration policy information from other such cities, she seems to have suspected, rightly, that, to score political points, the president might change the meeting's subject from transportation to immigration. So Harp skipped the meeting.
Whereupon the president blustered, "The mayors who chose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law-abiding America."
Of course the immigration issue is not that simple. Yes, some illegal immigrants are criminals but most are not. The real issue is whether immigration is ever to be controlled and, if so, how.
So it might have been helpful if Harp had attended the meeting and had replied to any demagoguery from the president.
But just as Trump demagogues the immigration issue by overstating its criminal aspects, Harp and other proponents of sanctuary cities and states -- like the mayor nearly all of them Democrats, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy -- claim to find virtue in nullifying federal law as the old segregationists did. It is actually the position of the nullifiers that anyone who breaks into the United States and makes his way to New Haven should be exempt from immigration law.
The president's demagoguery has made it nearly impossible to have an intelligent and civilized debate on the immigration issue. But his opponents are fortunate about this, since they don't want such a debate. They would lose it. For the logic of their position is that the United States shouldn't even be a country.
Connecticut's latest sad deportation case is that of Joel Colindres, an illegal immigrant living in New Fairfield with a U.S. citizen wife and two young U.S. citizen children. He says he came to the United States from Guatemala in 2004 to escape violence and persecution, surrendered to immigration authorities in Texas, and got regular stays of deportation until recently. Now the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency may expel him in a few days.
Presumably Colindres enjoyed the infamous "catch and release" policy of previous administrations, whereby, rather than being sent back immediately, illegal immigrants were given years to stay in the country, marry and start families to use as hostages against deportation by future administrations if their overused claims of fleeing persecution were ever doubted. Indeed, most illegal immigrants from Latin America are really only economic refugees, not political ones.
While it may be hard to see the point of deporting an illegal immigrant who has a citizen wife and children, there is one. It is to frighten and deter other illegal immigrants and induce their Democratic supporters to accept the obvious political compromise -- another immigration amnesty like the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, which promised but never delivered border security, in exchange for another such promise, this time the president's border wall. But erasing the border remains more important to the Democrats than legalizing the illegals and preserving families.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.