Applying The Trump Doctrine to Immigration Matters: Respect and Reciprocity

By Dan Cadman on July 17, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson has written an interesting column for National Review Online (NRO) entitled "Reciprocity Is the Method to Trump's Madness". He makes the persuasive case that in foreign policy matters, the abiding goal of our current president is a demand for reciprocity.

I tend to agree. Were I to put it into my own terms, I would suggest that the "Trump Doctrine" consists simply of two interrelated parts: 1) treat us with respect; and 2) accord to us what is due. This seems to be the abiding principle on which his treatment of both friends and foes is based, however unpolished his presentation may be at times.

Although the NRO column makes limited reference to immigration on the matter of reciprocity — and only in the context of the tilted NAFTA treaty under which we have operated for years — it seems to me that immigration is one of the areas where the Trump Doctrine shines brightest, and hits precisely at the intersection of both the president's foreign and domestic policy goals. In this context, "according us our due" means the obligation of other nations to acknowledge U.S. sovereignty over our own borders and not acting as if it is our burden to handle all of the world's poor and dispossessed. They have no inherent "right" to migrate to the United States, as some have suggested.

Trump has called out our immediate neighbors to the north and south for the trade-and-immigration imbalances that NAFTA represents. And he has made the point that often our so-called friends, whether in Mexico or elsewhere, don't treat us with respect or equity. We underwrite many of their domestic programs, overtly with foreign aid and cooperative grant programs, and less directly through our country's apparent willingness to lose billions of dollars per year through remittances that flow directly out of our economy and into those of our Latin American neighbors. And what do we get in return? If not outright contempt, then the next thing from it with two-faced pronouncements made on one hand for U.S. consumption, and others of an entirely different nature for consumption by their own nationals. Worse, they not only do little or nothing to abate the flows besieging our southern border, but they complain about U.S. homeland security attempts to halt the ingress of hundreds of thousands as somehow "inhumane" or seek favors to ensure that they don't have to actually deal with the internal pressures of rampant crime, poverty, or corruption.

But even with other, more distant "friends" (some of whom have been outright foes, and with whom we maintain complex relationships), the Trump Doctrine is being applied. Take, for instance, Laos: It endured years of a "war of liberation" that Communists ultimately won. The United States backed the losing side, and the winners went off the rails and engaged in wholesale slaughter of their own people.

Similarly, the military government of Myanmar (Burma) has been hostile to the United States for years, although for somewhat different reasons, although that government's human rights record is also a subject of deep concern, even after the election of a party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, which shares power with the military junta.

Increasingly, though, the governments in those countries have found it in their interest to modify their hostile stance toward the United States, not only for reasons of simple economics and investment opportunities, but also as a buffer against an increasingly dominant China. Yet even so, each of these governments has balked at the most basic request: to accept and facilitate the return of its citizens when they are ordered deported for violating U.S. immigration laws. Both of these nations have erected multiple roadblocks toward what should be a simple matter, the issuance of travel documents permitting repatriation. The result is that U.S. immigration authorities have repeatedly been obliged to release alien criminals to the streets after months of fruitless attempts to enlist cooperation from these governments.

In the past, multiple Democratic and Republican administrations have steadfastly declined to use a powerful legal tool at their command: Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which says this:

(d) Discontinuing Granting Visas to Nationals of Country Denying or Delaying Accepting Alien.-On being notified by the Attorney General that the government of a foreign country denies or unreasonably delays accepting an alien who is a citizen, subject, national, or resident of that country after the Attorney General asks whether the government will accept the alien under this section, the Secretary of State shall order consular officers in that foreign country to discontinue granting immigrant visas or nonimmigrant visas, or both, to citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents of that country until the Attorney General notifies the Secretary that the country has accepted the alien.

On July 10, the administration reached the end of its patience with the stumbling blocks intentionally erected by Burma and Laos and imposed sanctions under that section of the INA. What's more, it was done in a refined way targeting senior officials of the affected governments and their families. Note that these are authoritarian governments that would not likely care if visa sanctions were imposed against the populace at large; they might even like it as they could then attempt to stir public sentiment against us. Instead, the visa sanctions are geared to hit where they will garner the most attention — the governmental elite.

This is just the most recent example of the Trump administration's equity-and-reciprocity doctrine in action. Last September, the United States invoked Section 243(d) against four other nations: Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. The Trump administration has invoked this section against more nations than all other administrations combined. It's a good start.

Now about that border wall, and increased security measures there and in the interior: Much of it could be funded by imposing fees on all that remittance money flying across our borders every year. With congressional cooperation and the appropriate legislation, the administration could put those fees into a homeland security fund to be drawn from for immigration enforcement purposes.

Topics: Politics