Death by a Thousand Cuts: Evisceration of the Foreign Service

The Trump administration’s war on immigration has included an array of tactics. There have been full frontal assaults, such as the Muslim ban, cancellation of DACA, the border wall, and the RAISE Act. Simultaneously, the Trump administration is using the tactic of death by a thousand cuts: numerous assaults in the administrative agencies and courts intended to make immigration slower, more expensive, and painful. Here’s but one example.

Last week, the leader of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) said the Trump administration is crippling U.S. diplomacy through reductions to senior positions across the State Department. “The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight,” Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, wrote in a column sent this week to members of the union representing U.S diplomats. “The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she wrote. Read her full piece here.

As one immigration attorney has written, we often respect and admire the work that State Department visa officers and managers perform under difficult, and sometimes dangerous, high-stress conditions. “We may not always agree with the visa decisions  reached, but most of us would prefer those decisions be made by highly talented, intelligent, and dedicated Foreign Service officers than by anyone else.”

The State Department’s ability to carry out one of its core objectives—administering the visa process—is being fundamentally weakened by the administration’s effort to reduce the agency’s staff, importance, and influence. Fewer new officers to adjudicate visas means longer waits for visa appointments; fewer skilled consular managers mean less oversight, and less careful adjudications by front-line visa officers. Vacancies in top management positions in the State Department mean that visa policy discussions and decisions in Washington–if they take place at all–will be dominated by those in other agencies who believe that U.S. interests are not served by facilitating legitimate travel, but by restricting it.

The evisceration of the State Department is but one slash in the Trump administration’s immigration strategy of death by a thousand cuts.

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