Ahead of the Iraq War, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned colleagues about how the U.S. would be forced to spend years fixing Iraq if it invaded, citing what he called the “Pottery Barn Rule”: You break it, you own it.
On immigration, something different has happened to President Trump—something more like traditional buyer’s remorse. He aggressively and successively made hardline immigration policy synonymous with himself, but with a growing uproar over the separation of children from parents apprehended crossing the border, he is now wishing to distance himself from the policy.
This is not the first time this has happened. The fight over how to handle “Dreamers,” unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, has played out similarly. It’s probably not a coincidence that both of these cases involve children, a peculiar soft spot for an otherwise indifferent president. The problem is that thanks to his eagerness to claim credit for any changes in immigration enforcement, both those he earned and others that preceded him, it is hard for him to create any real separation.
The flareup at hand concerns the handling of families apprehended at the border, and it’s surrounded by a miasma of misinformation. It began in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to San Diego to announce a new policy of referring every person caught crossing the border illegally for prosecution. Although illegal entry is, self-evidently, a crime, most first-time offenders are not prosecuted.