The defiance and immediate dismissal of the acting Attorney General stands in contrast to the border patrol union leaders fawning over the new president
US President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from seven Muslim majority countries, among them some of the poorest on Earth, sparked chaos, confusion and massive protests at airports in the United States and across the world this weekend.
The ban on entry for visitors from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Sudan is supposed to last just 90 days, but indefinitely in the case of Syrian refugees. Even if it does end, the order's lasting impact could come with how it has forced federal officials at the highest and lowest levels of government to choose whether to follow Trump's edict or the rulings of federal courts halting the ban and the voices of massive demonstrations decrying it as unjust. It has lead to outspoken and covert dissent at the highest levels of the executive branch itself.
But from the lower levels of federal law enforcement, the ban has received a far warmer welcome, especially from the unions representing immigration officials. These groups have have applauded the move and their website sports numerous links to Breitbart.com, a far right news site, "The Intercept" reports.
"Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders," the unions wrote in a joint statement.
"The men and women of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Border Patrol will work tirelessly to keep criminals, terrorists, and public safety threats out of this country, which remains the number one target in the world – and President Trump's actions now empower us to fulfill this life saving mission, and it will indeed save thousands of lives and billions of dollars."
Their affinity for Trump follows with the president's ability to woo blue collar workers. Their white collar superiors, however, have not shown the same loyalty, and Trump has shown his willingness to purge them from his government.
Last week, most of the senior state department leadership resigned, amid the mass layoff of every foreign ambassador. This week, the Department of Justice, whose job it would be to defend the federal government's ban, saw the summary dismissal of America's top cop.
On Monday, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, the nation's top law enforcement official who is appointed by the president, said that the Department of Justice would not enforce the White House ban. She said she wasn't sure if it was an order in compliance with the Constitution.
"I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right," she wrote in an open letter. "At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful."
Later on Monday, Trump made it clear what happens to officials who defy him. He fires them and writes letters denouncing them as having betrayed their office. Then he replaces them with a more loyal official.
"Ms Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration," the White House announcement read. "It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country."
Trump's replacement, Dana Boente, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will replace Yates as acting Attorney General until the likely confirmation of Trump's Attorney General nominee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who endorsed Trump early in his run for the White House. Boente has said he will order DOJ lawyers to defend the ban in federal courts, where it is the subject of multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. The Constitution prohibits laws that discriminate against individuals as a group.
Yates was at the top of the law enforcement food chain, but lower down, authorities are having to choose sides too. The White House ban that Yates refused to enforce comes down to the decisions of individual border officials.
In the hours after a federal judge in Brooklyn put a halt to the law, Customs and Border Protection officers refused to let civil rights lawyers see detained travellers, according to a report in the "Daily Beast". The lawyers feared that the visitors, refugees and permanent residents would have to negotiate their immigration status without the help of legal counsel.
The scene at Dulles on Saturday night showed how the legislative, executive and judicial branches, meant to serve as counter balances to each others' power, were apparently thrown into disarray by the loyalties of the border officials.
Not only did lawyers for the migrants face roadblocks in meeting with their clients, but also Democratic lawmakers who showed up to meet with border officials.
"This instant we have an unknown number of detainees back there who a federal judge has says have a right to legal representation," Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, who has sponsored legislation to combat anti-Muslim immigration rules, told Reuters reporter Yeganeh Torbati.
"We have a number of volunteer lawyers, immigration lawyers ready to serve them, but customs and border patrol wont let the lawyers talk to the detainees," Beyer said.
He added that he wasn't sure why this was happening.
"All we can tell is a press release from DHS this morning that says they're going to obey the executive order to the letter. And the White House that seems to be resisting the three federal judges," he said. "We'd like to get these people home, out of the airport and reunited with their families."
The lack of communication between the executive branch and the legislative branch continued into Tuesday, when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters that the State Department says it is not permitted to speak to congress about the ban. Although the judge issued a stay on enforcing the ban, airlines are still preventing passengers with passports from the sanctioned countries from boarding planes.
While the head of the Justice Department defied Trump and he fired her for it, replacing her with a loyalist, the rank and file of border patrol, whose job is to actually enforce the law, might have more loyalty to Trump's edicts than to the legal process.
The extremes of American politics in the days after Trump's nomination even have David Brooks, a New York Time columnist noted for his unflinching dedication to bloodless centrism, to put matters in apocalyptic terms.
"With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times," Brooks wrote of Republicans "Faustian" bargain with Trump. "But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice."
AUTHOR: Wilson Dizard