Immigration

Trump Is Winning His War on Immigration

Americans may not like Trump's crackdown. But they're not stopping it.

There will be more.

Photographer: Miami Herald

It's easy to lose sight, amid the dangers and dysfunctions of Donald Trump's presidency, of his very real success on a core issue.

Trump made a bold bet against immigration in his 2016 campaign. That bet had two components. First, Trump gauged that a passionate anti-immigrant faction of the Republican Party could be the foundation of a winning campaign. Second, he bet that a majority of Americans, who have expressed far more benign views toward immigrants, including the undocumented, would not match the passion of immigration restrictionists.

In effect, Trump wagered that he could handle immigration politics the way Republicans have long handled gun politics, appealing to the hard right and ignoring the moderate middle.

The campaign proved Trump correct.

Under his administration, arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are up, and the willingness to spare undocumented immigrants who are longtime residents, leading exemplary lives, is way, way down. Almost any undocumented immigrant is now a federal target.

"We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order -- that's out the window," a veteran ICE agent told Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker, on condition of anonymity. The agent continued:

I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.

Polling shows broad and mostly consistent support for immigrants. Gallup regularly shows that more Americans support current levels of immigration or increased immigration than support a decrease. Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, whose status Trump has declined to resolve, are very popular. Most Americans support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. More Americans say immigrants help the economy than say they hurt it.

The public sentiments reflected in such polls are surely real. But Trump has proved that intensity of feeling may be more important. Americans have not taken to the streets in numbers strong enough to protect otherwise law-abiding mothers and fathers from deportation. Everyday Americans are not stopping the Trump administration roundup.

"When you add these measures to others -- the Muslim ban, the refugee ban, and, soon, a push to cut legal immigration by half by eliminating family reunification categories that have benefited Asian-Americans in particular -- you have a set of policies designed to do the following: deport Latinos, keep out Asians and ban Muslims," said immigration advocate Frank Sharry in an email. "Not only does this gang seem intent on remaking our immigration system so that we are no longer a welcoming nation, they seem intent on remaking the racial and ethnic make-up of the country. Dare I say it? This is a white nationalist agenda."

It's also arguably the most successful element of Trump's otherwise woeful first six months in office. Some ICE agents, such as the one quoted by the New Yorker, might be ill at ease with the new aggression toward the undocumented. And many Americans would prefer not to separate parents from their American children or spouses. But so far, outrage has been confined to what, for Trump, is a manageable minority.

Trump has counted on American passivity to see him through. So far, it's working for him. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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