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Trump accelerates his anti-immigrant agenda

The frontrunner for the GOP nomination is plotting a draconian expansion of his first-term immigration plan

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 20 December 2023 10:19 GMT
Trump uses 'blood and soil' rhetoric at campaign rally

As his campaign for the Republican nomination for president steers into the first primary votes of 2024, Donald Trump has spent the final weeks of the year, days before Christmas, dehumanising immigrants and scapegoating people arriving at the US-Mexico border to justify a brutal immigration agenda.

In his first appearance in New Hampshire in more than a month on Saturday, the former president echoed the pages of Mein Kampf and white supremacist manifestos by claiming that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country”.

The next day, at a rally in Reno, Nevada, he accused migrants of waging an “invasion” and falsely claimed people are “charging across the border by the hundreds of thousands”.

“This is an invasion. This is like a military invasion,” he said. “Drugs, criminals, gang members and terrorists are pouring into our country at record levels. We’ve never seen anything like it. They’re taking over our cities.”

At both rallies, he revealed his radical vision for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, from implementing “the largest deportation operation in American history” to “ideological screenings” for people arriving at the southern border.

The frontrunner for the GOP’s 2024 nomination is plotting a draconian expansion of his previous anti-immigrant agenda as he campaigns for a potential second term in the White House, building on the policies that President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to reverse.

The Biden campaign compared his latest comments to those of Adolf Hitler, while the White House issued a remarkable warning about the rhetoric of American fascism – coming from the mouth of a presidential candidate.

“Echoing the grotesque rhetoric of fascists and violent white supremacists and threatening to oppress those who disagree with the government are dangerous attacks on the dignity and rights of all Americans, on our democracy, and on public safety,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said on Sunday. “It’s the opposite of everything we stand for as Americans.”

Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Reno, Nevada on 17 December. (AP)

If elected, the next Trump administration would upend asylum protections for thousands of people who are legally in the US; round up undocumented people living in the US and detain them at camps before they’re expelled; and prohibit children born in the US to non-citizen parents from being granted citizenship.

Mr Trump has also repeatedly called for a more expansive ban on immigration from majority-Muslim countries that he implemented in his first term.

“Trump’s words very intentionally create hatred of the other and are nothing more than fear-mongering,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organisation.

“They play to the lowest and most sinister human emotions to incite hatred and cause harm or worse to innocent men, women, and children,” he added.

Mr Trump’s platform didn’t materialise out of thin air when he launched his presidential campaign in 2015. Then-candidate Trump pulled from what was a vast right-wing media ecosystem crafting a narrative around immigration reform, particularly within Breitbart, whose former executive chair Steve Bannon aided Mr Trump’s agenda. Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr Trump’s immigration policy, is expected to return to the White House in a senior role in a potential second administration.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Mr Trump said moments into his official campaign launch in 2015. “They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Later that year, Mr Trump praised a 1954 programme (named after a slur against Latinos and Hispanics) under President Dwight D Eisenhower, who “moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border,” Mr Trump said.

“They came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back. … We have no choice,” Mr Trump said.

In September of 2023, he once again praised “the Eisenhower model” and pledged to “carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”

During his remarks in Reno on Sunday, he once again promised mass deportations before coming up with a grossly inflated number of migrants who crossed the US-Mexico border during the Biden administration (“15 or 16 million people”).

In October 2018, then-President Trump invoked the idea of an “invasion” while mentioning the gang MS-13. “It’s like liberating, like a war, like there’s a foreign invasion,” he said at the time. “And they occupy your country. And then you get them out through whatever. And they call it liberation. You liberate it.”

Days later, he used the term again but to more broadly mean any migrant seeking asylum at the southern border. “We’re being invaded,” he said. “When you look at that thousands of people … on the bridge, when you look at that bridge loaded up with people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”

A US Border Patrol agent watches as migrants arrive at a transit centre near the US-Mexico border in Texas on 19 December. (Getty Images)

At his campaign rallies, Mr Trump has also repeatedly read the lyrics to “The Snake,” a song written by civil rights activist Oscar Brown in 1963 that later became a hit for soul singer Al Wilson. Mr Trump, after pulling out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, recites the lyrics with dramatic flourishes as if he’s reading a book to a kindergarten class.

He has characterised “The Snake” as a cautionary tale about allowing immigrants into the US, though the song was intended as a civil rights metaphor for white society. The family of Al Wilson has repeatedly asked him to stop reading it.

“Does that remind you of anything?” Mr Trump asked the crowd in Reno.

Mr Trump is able to exploit widely misunderstood, often distorted narratives around immigration policy and the realities of US-Mexico border crossing, though his reasons for doing so are less nuanced. His volatile rhetoric speaks to his base’s fear of immigrants and the perceived decline of the so-called American way of life, the foundation of the “great replacement theory” that has fuelled racist violence and right-wing media talking points.

The US has experienced higher-than-usual levels of immigration in recent years; roughly one-third of voters believe immigration is one of the nation’s most important issues, second only to price increases and inflation, according to a recent Harvard CAPS-Harris poll.

Republican officials have not forcefully condemned Mr Trump’s remarks. Some have said he didn’t go far enough. Heading into 2024, eight years after Mr Trump’s 2016 victory, their voters have moved even further right on immigration. Eighty-five per cent of Republican voters want a border wall, and six in 10 Republicans support ending citizenship at birth, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

But few voters understand asylum policy or how, exactly, people arrive and are encountered at the south border, which is often reduced to broad strokes in media and from elected officials. When a Democratic official is in office, he is blamed for those perceived failures. If it’s a Republican, voters blame him.

Voters underestimate “how difficult it is to control” immigration and are “entirely reliant on negative, attention-grabbing media content” when forming impressions of the border, Stuart N Soroka, a professor at UCLA who studies the “thermostatic opinion” phenomenon, told The Washington Post.

Donald Trump speaks next to Texas Governor Greg Abbott at the South Texas International airport on 19 November. (AFP via Getty Images)

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have failed to address the years-long systemic failures in the nation’s byzantine immigration system, while media reports that depict “surges” and “invasions” fail to mention the legal rights to claim asylum in the US and the myriad driving factors behind the numbers.

Over the last several years, millions of people have fled Central and South American countries in the wake of economic and political collapse, food and medicine shortages, cartel threats and other dangers before making a long and dangerous trek through Central America and into Mexico before arriving at the southern border.

Regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua also have driven a new wave of migration that led to an increase in border encounters over the last few years, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

Meanwhile, Republican governors in Arizona, Florida and Texas bused thousands of migrants out of their states, spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to do so, in protest of what they falsely characterised as President Biden’s “open border” agenda.

Human rights watchdogs and immigration advocacy groups have repeatedly warned that additional restrictions on immigration – compounded by a global failure to address the humanitarian crises fuelling migration patterns – will only continue to exacerbate border conditions.

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