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OP-ED: Trump is killing immigration with a thousand cuts

Scott Martelle
Los Angeles Times
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, an agent from the border patrol, observes near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, N.M. An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in government custody early Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018, U.S. immigration authorities said. (AP Photo/Christian Torres, File)

The Trump administration, which has used the arrival of Central American migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as a catalyst for all manner of stupid and cruel decisions, announced earlier this week that it will close immigration processing offices in more than 20 countries and shift the employees back home to help address a massive backlog in asylum requests.

It’s not clear, however, that the training and skill sets of people handling specialized immigration requests in overseas consulates are applicable to processing asylum requests within the U.S.

In reality, shuttering those offices will further slow the already glacial pace of visa processing, in essence hamstringing the bureaucracy that handles applications from the would-be immigrants whom President Donald Trump and the nativists in his inner circle seek so desperately to keep out. That seems to be the intent here, and the excuse that those overseas workers are needed back home to process asylum requests is just a pretext.

And they’ll probably get away with it, because once you fire an FBI director to slow an investigation, lie with impunity about matters big and small, and circumvent the Constitution by declaring a nonexistent national emergency and get a pass by our falsely vaunted system of checks and balances, what’s a little bureaucratic subterfuge?

The offices involved fall under the International Operations division of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and they handle a range of visa and immigration requests, including those for family reunification, international adoptions and humanitarian emergencies, among others.

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In announcing the closure of 24 offices and the repatriation of 240 employees, USCIS said it would hand those responsibilities over to the State Department, which, so far, has been mum on the issue, suggesting the already-understaffed State might not have even been aware that it’s being asked to shoulder yet more duties.

The closures will likely only exacerbate general slowdowns in processing by USCIS, which was the subject of a scathing report in January about “crisis-level delays” by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. According to the association:

— “The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014.”

— “USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types – from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers – more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014.”

— “Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease.”

The backlog is 2.3 million cases, double the amount in the previous year. A group of more than 80 Democratic members of Congress demanded an explanation last month from USCIS head Lee Cissna, though it’s unclear whether they’ve received a response.

And a slow response would be fitting given the backlogs elsewhere in the department.

The irksome part of this is the nefarious manner in which the administration is yet again seeking to throttle back the flow of immigrants and refugees to the U.S., which not only spurns our international obligations but also defies our history. There are reasonable policy differences to be hammered out over the scope and nature of immigration, but it should be Congress that makes those calls and not the nativists in the administration who can achieve their ends by simply not doing their jobs.

It’s not the only place where Trump’s minions are severely undercutting the scope and processes of government as their P.T. Barnum of a boss distracts the nation. Looking at you, environmental protection, workplace safety, and white-collar criminal prosecutions.

It makes you wonder what shape the nation will be in once Trump is gone. Short answer: not good. Long answer: Steve Bannon, long banished from the White House, seems to still be getting his way in forcing “the destruction of the administrative state,” known otherwise to the rest of us as the federal government.