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Constitution on hold 

Roaring that the Mongols are at the gates is an election strategy that may work in the home of the free as well as it has with desperate people in the long ugly history of nativism. President Trump, at least, thinks that stoking fears of murderous brown-skinned people swarming across the land, raping and pillaging as they go, accounts for his bump in the polls the past three months and the improving prospects that his party can hold onto Congress in the fall election.

But there is equal evidence that he has underestimated the strength of the old story of America as the beacon for the rights of man. His staff reported that he was shocked by the reaction, even in the Republican Party, against snatching the children of immigrants and asylum seekers at the border and also against taking away their due-process rights. Aides reported that he was furious that they had coerced him into rescinding the policy of snatching away immigrants' kids and holding them in internment camps.

Finally, in the midst of the chaos at the White House, Homeland Security and the Justice Department just scrapped the whole "zero tolerance" policy on immigrants and went back to the Barack Obama system. For the moment.

The president tweeted that he wanted border agents and troops to round up immigrants and haul them back across the border and perhaps to where they came from (his syntax was confusing) without any legal proceedings. But even Jeff Sessions' Justice Department is familiar with the Fifth and 14th amendments, which say they have the right to due process under the laws, just like us citizens.

Fearing that the Republican Congress might pass some sort of immigration reform that might salve the controversy, he told it not to bother. The immigration war, he has figured out, is his best chance to keep Democrats at bay in November by blaming them for a vast wave of immigrant crime. Americans are not that different from people in every community around the globe — we tend to want to be surrounded and governed by people who look and sound like us and have the same religious and political inclinations. As Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a few gay couples have discovered and blacks before them, many also prefer not to even do business with them.

So Trump has manufactured a national crisis: Hordes of criminally inspired people are flooding into the country at unprecedented rates, fostering a crime wave like the nation has never seen and endangering national security with terrorists and saboteurs.

All of it is manifestly untrue. Crime rates are close to historical lows, and crime statistics show that immigrants actually are less criminally inclined that we native-born.

Brownsville, Texas, just across the border from Matamoros and the cradle of the border controversies, offers a good analogy. Brownsville's population has soared from 99,000 in 1990 to 190,000.

Brownsville's murder rate surged last year to six, up from four in 2016. Let's match it with a comparable city in our parts — say, Little Rock, which has almost exactly the same population. Last year, Little Rock had 52 murders, nearly 10 times the Brownsville rate. Rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults compared similarly. Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez said Brownsville's crime rate had been trending downward the past few years.

But Trump's strategy is working, to a point. Polls show that 90 percent of Republicans stand with him, even if independents and Democrats do not.

Some of his staunch defenders, however, part with him on the little matter of immigration and human rights. His celebrated liberal defender, the Harvard constitutionalist Laurence Tribe, seemed mystified and a little hurt that Trump didn't know about or grasp the Fifth and 14th amendments.

Trump cut class when they took up the chapter on the country's founding. Founders like Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin were devotees of the Romantic philosophers Bentham and Mill, who said every human on earth was born with natural (God-given) rights, which Jefferson and others described in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution's preamble and the Bill of Rights as a batch of freedoms, including speech, press, religion, association, life, health, the pursuit of happiness and, of course, equality. In practice, the freedoms didn't apply to black people or women, but subsequently the country clarified those matters with the 13th, 14th and 19th amendments.

Liberty and equality were the right of every human, and once a person stepped on American soil the government would protect that person's rights, including due process and the equal protection of the laws — everyone's rights, including those of blacks, Muslims, gays, immigrants and even someone accused of breaking the law.

For two centuries, guaranteeing the rights of man made the United States the most admired and envied country on the planet, the refuge of the oppressed, the home of the Statue of Liberty, and asylum for Salvadorans and their children.

The president asks that we put that on hold until after the election.

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