As President Trump's legal troubles intensify, his public opposition to immigration, immigrants, and refugees has hardened. The "base" — long animated by Trump's verbal war against the immigrant community — is hanging tough with their president (a.k.a., The Unindicted Co-Conspirator). Immigrant activists and those who hope to see a broad, comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system should cease trying to negotiate with this reckless, criminal organization called the Trump administration and focus entirely on pushing political change.
- White House
- Stephen Miller
Since Trump first declared as presidential candidate, his supporters have claimed that they are not opposed to legal immigration, but only undocumented immigration, or in Trump parlance "illegals." But the administration's attack on U.S. refugee policy, immediately following his inauguration, completely undermines this argument. Trump and his young, arrogant, neocon political advisor Stephen Miller have quietly targeted legal immigrants — suspecting, perhaps, that Americans might not notice, or care. In 2016, under the Obama administration, 1.2 million immigrants gained lawful permanent residency. The numbers for 2018 suggest that the Trump administration is on track for a 20 percent decrease in green cards granted.
The Trump administration is also proposing to limit the pathways by which people earn residency and citizenship. Under Miller's design, if an immigrant has accepted any public benefit — such as Obamacare subsidies or social security disability benefits for a disabled child — he or she may find their chances for citizenship significantly diminished. By redefining and broadening the term "public charge," Miller's cruel calculus can be enacted without congressional approval.
The pressure that the Trump administration has put on the immigrant community through enhanced enforcement and rule changes means immigrant advocates are negotiating from a position of weakness and uncertainty. Such negotiations have led to concessions on funding for Trump's wall, elimination of the lottery visa, and even consideration of an end to family-based immigration — derisively referred to as "chain migration" by hard liners — a bedrock principle of our immigration system for decades.
These negotiations/concessions must end immediately. If not, we will allow the dangerous dynamic duo of Trump and Miller to remake American immigration policy for generations to come. In negotiating with an administration that does not value immigration — legal or otherwise — we risk undoing more than a half century of policy that has infused our nation with a dynamic pluralism. The very idea of America and the promise the word holds for the world community is on life support, thanks to these dangerous demagogues ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Lyndon Johnson passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, one of his most lasting achievements as president. This law quadrupled the number of immigrants living in the United States from 9.6 million to 45 million. Prior to 1965, more than 75 percent of all immigrants came from Europe. Since the passage of the INA, more than half of all immigrants have their origins in Latin America and 25 percent in Asia. This law directly affected the diversification of the American population: In 1965, 84 percent of the U.S. population was of European descent; now it is approximately 62 percent. The co-conspirator in chief and his MAGA movement have grown as a response to these demographic shifts. But demographic shifts are not something Trump can control without a major change in immigration law. Why then should those of us who value diversity and the vision of America as a nation of immigrants negotiate from a position of perceived weakness when time is on our side and no deal under these circumstances strengthens our position?
Fear of demographic changes, fear of science, fear of truth — these are a few of the hallmarks of this angry, antediluvian administration in Washington. It's time to tune out the noise and hatred billowing out of D.C. and prepare for the future. That future holds the promise of enlightened leadership, coupled with a resituating of the national narrative that has always focused on America as a place of hope and opportunity for the world.
Bryce Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney; Michael J. LaRosa is an associate professor of history at Rhodes College.