When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, immigration was on the minds of millions of Americans. Trump single-handedly destroyed the old consensus of the Republican Party’s political experts, who believed being soft on social matters and free-market-oriented on economics was the recipe for success.
Instead, he capitalized on the large cohort of voters whose anxieties about immigration were unrepresented among the major parties, each of which wanted open borders for various reasons. To the horror of the far Left and outrage of the NeverTrump Right, Trump somehow won.
In practice, however, Trump’s immigration record has been a mixed bag.
He did significantly limit the influx of refugees from countries to whom America has no moral or historical obligation, limiting the significant long-term costs of assimilating these aliens. The courts at first shut down his attempt to stop immigration from certain Islamic-majority countries that were hotbeds of terrorist activity. He did not push the wall or an emergency measure when Republicans held the House of Representatives. Now that Democrats have taken over the House, they were willing to endure a weeks-long shutdown to prevent the construction of the wall. The failure to allow expedited deportation of Central Americans has permitted many to slip into the interior, posing as families or otherwise exploiting our naïve asylum policies. Trump last week cut off funding to some of these countries, but that won’t stop people from coming, whether in caravans or otherwise.
Trump also announced he would give Mexico a “one-year warning” to stop the flows of migration and drugs into the United States, or he would slap tariffs on cars made there and also close the southern border.
“We’re going to give them a one-year warning and if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border.”
Trump’s tough talk is welcome, of course, but there are two problems. One, nothing has changed. Mexico has been a problem since long before the Trump campaign and remains one today. This is why the wall, coupled with aggressive interior enforcement, was both necessary and a political winner.
Nonetheless, two years into his presidency, illegal immigration through Mexico, including many non-Mexicans from Central America, continues to threaten the safety and livelihood of Americans, while straining our generous social safety net, schools, and hospitals. Resolving this problem is the sine qua non of Trump’s presidency and its success, but it appears increasingly to have been pushed into the background as a priority.
Asylum Abuse Unabated
Second, illegal immigration is growing as it is tied up in fraudulent asylum requests. Border apprehensions are down. In other words, more are coming in, fewer are being apprehended, and many of those apprehended are being released. None of this is necessary. Executive orders could remove asylum and other protections from dubious claimants, just as there is a streamlined process to deport Mexicans detained at the border.
But so far, there has been merely the rhetorical focus on the wall—itself an unsuccessful effort. Talk of ending birthright citizenship or the earlier agreement with Mexico to hold refugees on its side of the border has receded into the background. Instead, Jared Kushner, with Trump’s blessing, is pushing for an expansion of H1B visas, a giveaway to corporate America at the expense of skilled American workers.
What good is a wall if we are going to let millions of economic migrants inside our country and give them work authorization as their fraudulent asylum claims are resolved, while also letting in a great many more people legally? The immigration issue is not simply or even primarily a concern with law and order, though recognition of that aspect of the problem is certainly welcome and refreshing. It’s a question of our collective quality of life, preserving the right of the historical American people to choose not only their government but their neighbors, and guaranteeing the jobs, benefits, and resources of our country are preserved for our citizens and their progeny.
A Promise Trump Cannot Break
Trump’s recent statement on Mexico recognizes what he (and his supporters) already recognized during the campaign. Why wait a year to shut the border? Why not shut it down now or limit the traffic solely to goods and impose “extreme vetting” on who may be allowed to travel through visa permission?
The self-imposed delay accomplishes nothing, but it does underscore the increasing gap between Trump the candidate and Trump the president. Trump the candidate and Trump the Twitter “edge poster” is a sight to behold, a man of clarity, wit, perception, and courage. But Trump the president frequently has walked back his strongest proposals, particularly on immigration.
While he has kept pledges on tax cuts, has vouchsafed significant resources to the military, and been particularly solicitous of Israel in matters of foreign policy, these efforts are orthogonal to his campaign. The business class did not take him over the top to win election, all Republicans are committed to a strong defense, and Israel does not get a vote in U.S. elections. The campaign promise was to Make America Great Again, not just cut taxes or do things that run-of-the-mill Republicans would do. Regardless of the merits of these policies, they were not what allowed him to win where John McCain and Mitt Romney could not.
If something legally can be done on the border with Mexico, particularly in light of Mexico’s earlier commitments to stop the flow of illegal migrants from Central America, there is no reason for delay. This is a cumulative problem. Not only must it be stopped, it must be reversed.
Some have suggested Trump’s critics from the Right are fair-weather friends, unrealistic, or undermining him. But expecting an elected official to keep the promises he was elected to keep is perfectly reasonable and fair. This is not just a question of what’s right, but what makes for good politics. The NeverTrump way of thinking, that is the stale Republican ideas that were behind the pre-Trump Republican Party, are electoral losers.
Trump won because he embraced nationalism. He diagnosed significant obstacles to our national flourishing and the preservation of our unique national character, namely, the demographic replacement of the historical American people. Far from giving Mexico or any other country more chances, it is past time he does what he was elected to do.
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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore