After nearly 50 immigration policy changes since COVID-19 arrived at our shores, and an untold number since President Trump came into office, he has brought immigration to the United States to a near standstill.
In 100 days, the American people will decide how long the darkness will last.
The president’s ruminations on DACA and “merit-based” immigration should not lead us to believe he now thinks immigrants and immigration are a benefit to the nation. There is significant evidence showing that Trump’s re-election campaign will rely on anti-immigrant fabrications. And it is unlikely he will cast aside “build the wall,” “bad hombres” or any of his other favorite applause lines.
We have come full circle to a century ago. In the 1920s, nationalism, global conflict, and simmering racial hostilities combined to pave the way for the Immigration Act of 1924. The law’s “national origin” racial quotas curtailed immigration from southern and eastern Europe and halted arrivals from Asia. With few exceptions, the door to America had slammed shut.
The ensuing 40 years was a fight for the future of America, as Jia Lynn Yang describes in her new book, One Mighty and Irresistible Tide. It was a period that shamefully included a burgeoning eugenics movement, the United States turning its back on displaced Jews fleeing death, and McCarthyism that quickly stretched beyond fighting communism to target political opponents who supported, among other ideas, a more expansive approach to immigration.
As we move into the 2020s, the president’s spectacular mismanagement of multiple crises—rising nationalism, a global pandemic, and exploding racial hostilities—has created a dangerous environment for America to close its door to the world.
It is getting harder and harder for the vulnerable to seek protection in the United States from persecution of any kind—religious, political, or social. Attorney General William Barr is reopening asylum cases to potentially remove protections. Children as young as 1 year old, are being detained in hotels. Our immigration courts are stacked with leadership focused on denying cases and curtailing due process. “Enforcement” at the border now means deporting people without following the law. Under the president’s April proclamation even family members of lawful permanent residents may not be able to enter the country, and also affects recipients of diversity visas. And, barring action from Congress, the administration’s approach to immigration is in danger of bankrupting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before the summer is over.
America is clearly better than this. Because, much to his chagrin (and political peril), President Trump has forged a new consensus on American immigration.
In polling completed at the end of May, as the nation continued to be racked by COVID-19 and as George Floyd’s death was launching a new kind of conversation about racial justice, Gallup found that more Americans wanted an increase in immigration than a decrease—a first since Gallup started asking this question in 1965.
Look closely and you see something surprising: a 7-point rise since 2018 in independents’ support for increased immigration. Among people older than 55, 63 percent want the present level or an increase and 73 percent think immigration is a good thing. The numbers are 77 percent and 80 percent among those with “some college” education, and 79 percent and 86 percent among moderates.
The very coalition that boosted Trump to victory in 2016 is cracking under the weight of his hardline immigration policies.
Not only have a handful of Trump-skeptical evangelical leaders, such as Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, criticized Trump on immigration, but even the staunch Trump supporter Franklin Graham said in 2018 of the administration’s efforts to separate families at the border, “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” All of this is seared into the minds of suburban women.
And the rescission of DACA looms large for business leaders. The expansion of interior enforcement operations leads farmers to worry if their skilled workforce will make it to work. The end of refugee resettlement and asylum processing leaves people of faith asking if their government shares their values. Patients in Appalachia hope their foreign-born doctor will be there the next time they need care.
If the United States is to avoid decades of nativism and nationalism that could result from a second Trump term, the deciding factor will be moderate and independent voters who may have supported Trump’s vision of America in 2016 but now reject it for what it is: an agenda that skirts the rule of law, champions authoritarianism, and strips all of us, immigrant and native-born, of our dignity.
Restoring America’s dignity begins on November 3.