The spark that ignited Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 was his promise to “build a wall” and stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the nation. He also promised to ban Muslim immigrants, questioned the immigration of refugees and openly stoked anti-immigrant sentiments.
That demagoguery hit a note with many Americans. Playing on that fear propelled Trump into the White House. Nominally, that rhetoric revolved around “illegal immigrants” and efforts to slow illegal crossings at the U.S. and Mexican border.
But after nearly two years in office, the real intentions of the Trump Administration are clear — not only does the administration want to stop illegal immigration, it wants to dramatically slow legal immigration and stymie the process of those becoming U.S. citizens.
This is not being done by Congress and changes in the laws. It’s being done by executive fiat and the manipulation of the machinery that deals with immigration issues.
Take a look at the actions that have been, and continue to be, taken to derail the existing U.S. visa and immigration system:
• In the early days of his administration, Trump attempted to enact what was tantamount to a ban on Muslims from several countries. The courts initially struck that down, but later allowed a weaker version to stand.
• The Trump Administration has dramatically slowed down the nation’s Refugee and Resettlement Program by increasing the bureaucracy of those seeking refugee status. For 2019, the administration is seeking to lower the refugee cap to just 30,000 people, the lowest number ever. Refugees are a special category of immigrants who have fled war or persecutions in their home countries for religious or ethnic reasons.
• The administration has been winding down the Temporary Protected Status program that allows people fleeing war, disasters, famine and other problems to live in the U.S. until their countries have recovered. That program has seen some abuse where people stay in the U.S. after their countries are able to take them back, but the brutal chaos in some Central America countries make it impossible for some TPS participants to return.
• The administration has lowered the number of green cards and temporary visas that allow people to live and work in the U.S. That includes high-tech workers and seasonal agricultural workers. The one area that has increased under Trump has been H2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal guest workers like Trump’s own resorts use. (funny how that happened.)
• Trump has attempted to end the DACA program, which has allowed immigrants who were brought into the country as young children to live, work and go to school in the U.S. without the fear of deportation to a country they don’t know. Most Americans support giving these people a path to full citizenship since they have grown up as Americans in all but official legal status.
• The administration’s crackdown at the border that took children away from parents was an effort to create an atmosphere of fear to discourage illegal immigration. But the method was cruel and unjust and didn’t have the support of most Americans. It was ultimately stopped after a public backlash.
• The administration has changed how visas are processed by allowing a single bureaucrat who reviews a visa application to deny the visa without specifying what information might be missing or needed.
• Lawyers representing immigrants say that the administration has slowed down the entire visa process by making interviews longer and purposefully complicating the procedures.
There are other actions as well from the administration, all designed to not only curtail illegal immigration, but also to cut legal immigration to the U.S.
That has had a negative impact on some U.S. businesses, especially in agriculture and high-tech industries. Although the Trump Administration argues that limiting the number of overseas workers will be good for native-born Americans, that has not been the case with the current low level of unemployment. Businesses need labor, but are having a difficult time finding workers. That is, in part, due to these limitations on foreign workers.
Beyond the economic issues, the real reason for the limitations on foreign workers comes from those around Trump who are strong proponents of white American nativism. These advisors are trying to slow the influx of Asians, Hispanics, Indians and other ethnic groups that are not white or of European background.
By around 2050, the nation’s demographics will shift such that whites will be a minority as other ethnic and racial groups get larger. The Trump Administration is attempting to slow that change by slowing the rate of both legal and illegal immigration.
But being “American” isn’t about skin color or ethnic heritage. We are a nation of immigrants who over the course of history have assimilated our dreams and freedoms, even if we have not assimilated as one ethnic or racial group.
The Trump Administration’s intense focus on limiting all kinds of immigration is at its core an attempt to keep America white. It doesn’t want brown skin or yellow skin immigrants, or those of non-white ethnic groups. There are a lot of people advising Trump who seem to think that only European whites deserve a seat at the American table.
This is nothing new in America. Over the last 125 years, the nation has had other periods where xenophobia has led to anti-immigrant laws. We’ve had laws against Chinese, Japanese and Hispanics. We turned Jews away during WWII who were trying to flee Nazism. (And that’s not to mention how we treated Native Americans or those who were brought here as slaves.)
Still, this current anti-immigrant fever is troubling. It has strains from the alt-right where racial purity (whites only) seems to be deeply embedded. The entire movement has echoes of Germany in the 1930s.
None of us who are native-born Americans did anything to deserve our citizenship status. We were born on American soil, something that we had nothing to do with. We are American by default, not because we did anything to earn that privilege.
Being an “American” is not about race, or ethnic background, or language, or history. Being “American” is about embracing a set of shared ideas and beliefs, no matter where someone was born.
By focusing on demographic and ethnic issues in a bid to keep America predominantly white, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are degrading those ideas and beliefs.
Controlling the border and immigration isn’t by itself a bad thing. But manipulating the system to keep out people because of their ethnic background, religion or skin color undermines what America is all about.
I fear it will only get worse.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.