A great deal that is comment-worthy happened in the first two weeks of September. To begin with, President Trump cancelled a meeting at Camp David with leaders of the Taliban to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan when a U.S. soldier was killed in a Taliban attack. A few days later, the president and his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, parted ways (Trump says he fired Bolton, while Bolton claims he resigned.) Rumor has it that Bolton, known as a “war hawk” for his willingness to use military force, was opposed to the president making concessions to get Iran to the bargaining table over their development of nuclear weapons.
Then the very next day, a drone attack was launched against two key Saudi oil production facilities, taking out half of Saudi Arabia’s production capacity. It is still not clear where the drones were launched from, but it was almost certainly done with Iranian approval. Trump now says the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to strike back, leaving one to wonder whether we are pulling our forces out of the Middle East or getting sucked deeper into the Sunni-Shia quagmire?
If all this seems confusing, things aren’t much clearer on the Chinese trade war front. Everyone loses in a trade war; the “winner,” if there is such a thing, is the country that sustains the least economic damage. President Trump claims the Chinese are the bigger losers so far, and, indeed, China’s economy has taken a huge hit. But analysts in Asia say Chinese premier Xi Jinping sees things differently. Xi, who doesn’t have to worry about elections, believes Trump’s decision-making will be based on how much the trade war hurts his chance of getting re-elected in 2020 and not how much it costs American consumers and producers. Thus, as trade negotiations drag on, the pressure on Trump will grow and he will start looking for a way to back off — at least temporarily — without losing face with his base.
Meanwhile the world economy is taking a lot of collateral damage from the trade war and signs of a global recession are growing. Investors worldwide are running for cover — looking for “safe havens” where they can store their wealth until the economic picture clears up. In doing so, they are driving up the price of long-term bonds, which drives down bond yields (the interest they pay) and creates an inverted yield curve. President Trump has responded by lambasting the Federal Reserve Board, calling them “boneheads” and demanding that they lower the interest rate to zero. If there is an economic recession in the U.S., the president is almost certain to blame the Fed for not taking his advice.
One recent bright spot, at least in my opinion, was the 7-2 decision handed down by the Supreme Court on processing asylum-seekers. While I am sympathetic to immigrants seeking a better life in the United States and believe they are an asset to our nation, not a liability, there is a big difference between a migrant, a refugee and an asylum-seeker. Migrants are persons who are relocating voluntarily in search of a better life; a refugee is someone fleeing a war, religious persecution or natural disaster that prevents them from returning home without putting their life in danger; while an asylum-seeker is a person seeking protection in a country due to a personal danger.
An example of an asylum-seeker might be someone who worked for or collaborated with the U.S. military in Iraq, and when U.S. forces withdrew, their life was in danger. The hitch is that to apply for asylum, one must be on U.S. soil. (In other words, someone can’t just raise their hand and say “I want asylum in the U.S.” and expect us to go in and fetch them.) That doesn’t mean they have to actually be in the United States to apply for asylum, because our embassies and consulates around the world are considered sovereign U.S. territory and the person can apply there. Asylum is granted on a personal basis and the process was never intended for, nor was it designed to handle, hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of applications at the same time.
Refugees, on the other hand, generally do come in large numbers, and the United Nations has a process for handling such situations (see unhcr.org). It maintains refugee camps around the world to house those unable to return safely to their homelands while they apply for relocation to a nation willing to accept them. (Canada currently is the number one refugee-accepting nation in the world; it gets lonesome up there and they are happy to have more people.) But one stipulation is that refugees must stop in the first country where they are safe; they can’t just go wandering around on their own “country-shopping.”
The current immigration crisis at our southern border developed as refugees from central America passed through Mexico and crossed our border illegally, then claimed they were seeking asylum. Typically, asylum seekers are given an interview with a U.S. asylum officer to determine if they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country. If they pass that initial screening, they face an immigration judge who decides if their asylum claim has merit — a process that can take months or years because of huge court backlogs. Some migrants are detained during the wait, but many are released on bond or parole into the United States. Few ever show up for their asylum hearing.
Basically, the Supreme Court decision means that the Trump administration can skip the “credible fear” interview and deny asylum requests from migrants at the southern border who traveled through Mexico or another country without seeking protection from those countries, although there are exceptions for those who were the victims of trafficking and people who sought and were denied asylum in another country.
Liberals are having a fit over the Supreme Court’s decision, but it should be noted that it was not a one-vote, conservative/liberal split by the court. And the two dissenting judges — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor — argued that the Supreme Court should not have heard the case while it was still under consideration in the lower courts, not that the interpretation of the terms refugee and asylum-seeker was wrong. This decision is consistent with the U.N. policy on refugees, and it will free up the immigration courts to hear asylum cases for those who truly merit a hearing.