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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By some baffling process, the Trump administration has acquired a reputation for not welcoming foreigners to our shores. This terrible misimpression grieves Ken Cuccinelli. He has offered a kinder, gentler approach intended to reassure every American who takes a positive view of legal immigration.

In a Fox News interview, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke of the “very moving experience” of the naturalization ceremonies he has attended, seeing people who come from all over the world take an oath of allegiance to this country. He said the administration has actually increased the number of people becoming citizens.

“Last year, we were in the range of 850,000, and that was the most in five years,” he said. “People who come after the president and this administration say, ‘Oh, you know, you don’t like immigrants.’ Well, we are letting more people become citizens than has happened in years.”

It’s a surprising image: Huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, flocking into the warm embrace of Donald Trump, who swells with pride at their eagerness to do the right things to become full members of our society. Regrettably, I must advise you it bears no resemblance to the truth.

In the first place, Trump does not spare contempt for legal immigrants who become citizens. He said Rep. Ilhan Omar, born in Somalia, brought here as a child and naturalized as a teen, should “go back” to her native land. Maybe you’ve heard about it.

Cuccinelli is also an ill-suited messenger. He has called for repealing birthright citizenship and called Rep. Steve King, an unabashed white nationalist, “one of my very favorite Congressmen.” Cuccinelli also said that the president’s call for four Democratic women House members to leave the country was not racist. So what he exudes is not credibility.

His account was also faulty, as PolitiFact noted. The 850,000 figure is the number of applications that were completed in 2018; the number approved was about 756,800. Cuccinelli was off by nearly 100,000. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of petitions approved barely budged.

The number of people filing citizenship applications did rise in 2017, but not because Trump made them feel they belong. Just the opposite. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), who was a legal services attorney at the time of the 2016 election, has said: “We started encouraging people to obtain citizenship if they were eligible, due to the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the administration. And I think the administration helped deliver that message pretty forcefully.”

If you’re worried about being punished because you’re a foreigner, the logical move is to become a U.S. citizen, with all the protections that go with that status. It was fear of Trump’s policies that drove the jump in applications.

But applying is not the same as getting. Cuccinelli neglected to mention all the ways his agency has impeded people from becoming U.S. citizens.

An immigrant needs to have a green card — that is, be a legal permanent resident — for at least five years to be allowed to naturalize. Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh told me the administration “has been trying to cut down on the number of green cards issued each year” — which would cut the number of possible naturalizations in the future. Under Trump, the denial rate on these applications has risen by more than a quarter.

His colleague David Bier notes that USCIS has increased “the load of paperwork for immigration applications by double, triple or more.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the typical time it takes to process an application for citizenship rose by 46 percent in the past two years.

The National Partnership for New Americans says that despite a drop in applications in 2018, the backlog of petitions rose to 738,148. That’s bigger than the population of Washington, D.C.

In many cities, the wait time can exceed 20 months — which means that “certain people who apply for citizenship today may be prevented from being naturalized and subsequently being able to register to vote in time to participate in the 2020 elections,” says NPNA.

That effect could be completely unintentional on the part of the administration, just as Cuccinelli could win the Heisman Trophy. Neither is easy to imagine.

The president has made his feelings about foreigners clear, and his administration has translated those prejudices into policy. When more foreigners become Americans, it’s not because of Trump. It’s in spite of him.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden

If you were a Trump supporter anticipating a ruinous assault on Joe Biden's integrity during that final debate, too bad. What you got instead was a series of incomprehensible outbursts from Donald Trump, who seems to assume that everybody believes whatever nonsense they hear on Fox News, just like he does.

The day after the debate was even more disappointing. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch himself, dropped a front-page investigative report that directly contradicted Trump's accusations about Biden and China. The only candidate with unseemly business over there is Trump himself, whose secret account in a Chinese bank was just exposed.

For months, Trump and his minions have hyped allegations of financial corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump got himself impeached, with the help of legal genius Rudy Giuliani, over his attempt to force Ukraine's president to open a fake corruption probe of the former vice president and Burisma, the energy firm that once employed Biden's son Hunter. Their deception collapsed when Trump and Obama administration officials testified – with ample documentary evidence – that Biden had done nothing to protect Burisma and only carried out United States and European initiatives against corruption in Ukraine.

But that failure didn't discourage Giuliani, former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, or the other fabricators in the Trump entourage. In recent days, they have unveiled a mysterious laptop computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden and reached Giuliani and then the New York Post through a series of implausible events. There are clues that the electronic data on the laptop was invented or altered. Who might do that? Let's see: The Kremlin is seeking to harm Biden politically, and Giuliani has openly welcomed the assistance of Russian intelligence assets, so the answer is fairly obvious. Especially because Russian agents provided similar services for the Republican candidate four years ago.

When the laptop gambit flopped, the Trumpsters still didn't give up.

On the eve of the debate, a Wall Street Journal columnist published a claim that Joe Biden personally profited from investments in China fronted by Hunter. Her column was based on assertions by a shadowy but euphoniously named businessman, a certain Tony Bobulinski. In a move worthy of that old pardoned felon Roger Stone, Bobulinski actually attended the Nashville debate (after staging a "press availability" where he refused to answer any questions.)

Unfortunately for both Bobulinski and that eager Journal columnist, her newspaper on Friday published the investigation that cratered their nefarious tale. After months of actual reporting, the Journal's real journalists found that the venture cited by Bobulinski "never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals." Moreover, corporate records reviewed by the Journal's reporters "show no role for Joe Biden."

So far the Biden "scandal" most closely resembles Whitewater and the entire panoply of Clinton finance scandals that never revealed any wrongdoing whatsoever. Whatever Trump may spew and sputter, there is no plausible evidence that has been subjected to examination by journalists of integrity.

And fortunately for Biden, the nation's traditional news outlets are approaching the allegations against him with a cool and appropriate skepticism. That wasn't the case in 2016, the last time Steve Bannon played the same games. For Bannon and Giuliani, as well as their echoes across right-wing media, the objective was always to launch their false narratives into the mainstream. They succeeded brilliantly in 2016, with the assistance of the New York Times and other news organizations that should have known better and done better. This time they are failing.

In promoting these serial smears, the risk for Donald Trump is always that someone competent will inspect his record. That's what should have happened four years ago, when he and Bannon falsely attacked the Clinton Foundation while concealing the sordid truth about the Trump Foundation, a brazen criminal enterprise.

That 2016 frameup was a classic instance of projection – and we can assume the same dynamic is at work today. So now is the time to scrutinize all of the Trump Organization's crooked, conflicted deals overseas – and how he and his family have profited from his presidency.