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A country of anti-immigrants

Trump’s incendiary campaign pledges and his post-election comments on immigration issue do not inspire much hope

A country of anti-immigrants

Donald Trump’s upstart candidacy, resulting in an upset win, continues to reverberate across the world. Part of Trump’s wider appeal was supplied by his explosive and racist stance on immigration issues. Never before has a US presidential candidate couched immigration issues in such openly racist terms as he did.

His divisive rhetoric on immigration tapped into economic and cultural nationalism that underpinned Trump’s campaign. On the campaign trail, Trump concentrated his fire on immigrants whom he liberally, and variously, described as rapists and criminals. Though these pejorative terms were applied to all of immigrants, Muslims in particular came in for Trump’s special verbal lashings.

Muslims as a category were described as terrorists and Trump vowed to ban entry of Muslims associated with terrorism in the US under his presidency. Trump’s public spat with Khizer Khan, who lost his son in the US foreign wars, underlined his hostility to Muslims. Trump was one of the consistent critics of Obama. Trump’s anti-Obama diatribe focused on proving that Obama was not born in the US.

The anti-immigrant strain in Trump’s political arsenal has remained consistent. He has not spared the Mexicans and Hispanics which have played, like other immigrants, a vital part in US prosperity. In relation to the Mexicans, he pushed a consistent line to build wall on the Mexican-US border to prevent ingress of illegal Mexican immigrants.

At the height of the campaign, he made it a point to visit Mexico and had the gumption to suggest that Mexico would pay for the immigration Berlin wall. The Mexican government was quick to deny Trump’s proposal. This was typical Trump: making his point while maintaining slender relationship with truth.

One of the biggest questions being asked everywhere following Trump’s victory is: how much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric will find its way into immigration policy once he formally assumes the presidency in the new year? So far, guesswork has concentrated on how his campaign pledges are going to impact policy areas of trade, immigration and climate change.

The lynchpin of the agreement President Obama reached with world leaders was the US commitment to raise the US refugee intake from 10,000 to 110,000 in addition to pledging 1 billion US dollar extra funding. With the ascension of Trump, this commitment is under threat of being downgraded, dealing a further blow to efforts to tackle the migration crisis.

One line of argument suggests that Republication establishment would come into play to temper some of Trump’s wild-card electoral pledges. The second line of argument suggests that since he posed as a big boy who can fix all problems he may not be amenable to political pragmatists in the Republican Party.

However, on immigration issue it has not taken Trump long to indicate that he is determined to push ahead with the deportation of 2-3 million immigrants with criminal record and build a combination of fence and wall on the border between Mexico and the US. Since immigration is a policy domain where pro-immigration groups hold limited clout, there is a wider sense that Trump will push hard on the immigration issue as least resistance is likely to be offered by historically weak pro-immigration policy actors.

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Trump has made it plain that immigration was his priority number one. Though the US has prided itself on being a country of immigrants, anti-immigrant feelings have been widespread and have been used by politicians for political purposes. Even the outgoing president, Barack Obama, while pushing through legislation offering 11 million illegal migrants pathways to citizenship, his presidency was known for deporting the highest number of million illegal immigrants in the entire US history.

Under his presidency, more than 2 million immigrants were deported. The scale of deportations was such that pro-immigration organisations dubbed him the deportation president. Not only that, Obama’s presidency also saw enhanced immigration border patrol on the Mexican Border. Yet, this act of showing himself strong and tough on immigration did not endear him to the hostile Republican Party. The Republican Party blocked his modest immigration reform proposals at each step of the legislative process.

Having set out the relationship between Trump’s presidency and immigration, there are some areas of immigration policy which are likely to be affected in the short term under Trump’s presidency. First, immigration issue, enjoying low political clout in policy circles, will be the terrain where Trump is likely to exert his mandate muscularly.

This is already evidenced in his intention to deport about 3 million immigrants with criminal records. Though, in practice, this may prove harder because of limited judicial and immigration system capacity to handle this target.  Second, the entry of Muslim immigrants into the US is likely to be regulated more tightly. Already reports of Muslim visitors subjected to enhanced checks and controls have been the staple of news coverage since 9/11.

Third, there are fears that work visa for skilled migrants would face draconian tightening. This would be justified on grounds of native preference or Trump’s America first. However, businesses are not likely to take it lying down as most of the Silicon Valley is dependent on foreign workers. To an extent, this is already happening in the UK where businesses are resisting UK government clampdown on skilled migrant labour in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Fourth, the agreement which the secretary of state, John Kerry, reached with the Australian government to accept 15,000 refugees from Australia’s notorious off-shore refugees processing centre in Nauru may come unstuck. Fifth, during the current General Assembly Session, President Obama convened a historic summit of world leaders to deal with the growing problem of refugees and migration.

The lynchpin of the agreement President Obama reached with world leaders was the US commitment to raise the US refugee intake from 10,000 to 110,000 in addition to pledging 1 billion US dollar extra funding. With the ascension of Trump, this commitment is under threat of being downgraded, dealing a further blow to efforts to tackle the migration crisis.

Sixth, president Obama’s only singular achievement of legislating legal pathways for 11 million illegal immigrants may also be in danger of being reversed as Trump is reportedly preparing to dismantle Obama’s legacy piece by piece. Like every other policy area thrown into confusion, immigration policy and pro-immigration advocates face a testing time in years ahead. Trump’s incendiary campaign pledges and his post-election comments on immigration issue do not inspire much hope either.

Dr Arif Azad

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The writer, a development consultant and public policy expert, writes on policy matters, politics and international affairs. He may be reached at [email protected]

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