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Everything But the Wall: Donald Trump’s Real Plan

What the Trump Administration is likely to do instead to get the immigration outcomes it wants.

January 27, 2017

What the Trump Administration is likely to do instead to get the immigration outcomes it wants.

Despite Donald Trump’s obsession with building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, there isn’t a real need to do so.

In the post-factual world he lives in, Trump may not have noticed that the inflow of illegal immigrants into the United States is not only under control, but has been declining for some time.

As construction jobs dried up in the United States after the 2008/9 recession, quite a few Mexican and Central American workers returned to their home countries.

The 2.5 million deportations during the Obama years also had an effect. (For comparison, in the eight years under George W. Bush, there were a remarkable 20% fewer deportations).

Why the recent deportations?

The new round of deportations that Trump has now initiated are akin to show trials. For all their supposed love for “law and order,” the intent behind the Republicans’ actions aren’t really about enforcing U.S. law and order.

What they aim for when they are now deporting Mexican mothers whose children are U.S. citizens is a silent circumvention of the U.S. Constitution.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has long been a thorn in the eye of the conservatives. It provides for all children born in the United States, no matter the citizenship of their parents, automatically to become U.S. citizens.

The most hard-line of Republicans actually wanted to undermine or abolish this bedrock principle of American citizenship policy. One of their most vocal champions is Trump’s new U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, of late a U.S. Senator for Alabama.

Trump himself, back in 2015, promised to end the practice in his very first campaign policy document.

Circumventing constitutional provisions

Short of altering the Constitution – and abandoning the U.S.’s “right of the soil” principle – the intended effect can also be partially achieved by simply expelling non-citizen mothers from the country.

The obvious hope is that that the torn-up family will reunite in Mexico. (In reality, many U.S.-born children simply remain behind with extended family and friends.)

Symbolic punishment

While their efforts in that regard will thus be somewhat frustrated, Trump and the Republicans are happy to engage in purely symbolic politics.

Trump knows that he will ultimately disappoint the economic expectations of many blue-collar workers that he set into motion with his presidential election campaign.

There will be no sea of new, well-paying jobs for them. Their hope for a revival of the 1950s and 1960s is not going to be fulfilled.

As Trump will continue to make economic policies designed for the benefit of the rich, he needs to offer his other voters something as a substitute.

And that’s where deportations enter into the political equation. Trump will not only accelerate their pace. He will also publicize deportation raids in major cities much more.

He will thus depart from the path of the Obama Administration, which was also harsh in terms of substance, but tried to keep ICE actions out of the spotlight, so as not to alienate too many Latino voters.

Trump is different. His actions are just a heartless and irrational application of immigration policy, but they are politically shrewd.

As a (white) people’s tribune, he wants to generate outrage and applause. He calculates that this gives his white voters around and below the median income level some (perverted) sense of “justice.”

These voters will think: Even if we do not get anything substantive from Washington, we want to feel at least comfortable that the others – whether blacks or Mexicans – are more trampled.

That is why deportations also satisfy the belief that everything would be “great again” in the United States – if only the Mexicans (and other Central Americans) had not “stolen” the jobs from Americans.

Walled in already

As to building a wall, as Mr. Trump has promised, that venture – in typical American fashion – is not just becoming ever more expensive. It is also unnecessary.

On the one hand, barriers have already been built through many urban areas straddling the border. Some sections could be strengthened, but there is no realistic need or chance of a 2,000-mile Great Wall of China on the Southern U.S. border.

Don’t trust but verify

There is a very practical way out for the new President that is not outright de-humanizing. Mr. Trump could simply decide, more elegantly, to finally implement and strictly enforce the e-verify process.

Under this system, employers must check, under threat of a severe penalty, the immigration status of job applicants.

Undertaking this step, however, would also potentially pit Trump against the Chambers of Commerce. Those chambers are a very powerful political force, especially in Republican circles.

Another Republican double standard

Even though chambers of commerce across the United States like to wrap themselves in the mantle of patriotism, they lose their presumably always law-abiding spirit the very moment somebody wants to restrain their freedom to hire.

In the never ending quest to minimize labor costs, local firms are willing to hire anybody available – along the “don’t ask, don’t tell” principle.

Officially, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has backed e-verify since 2013, after repeatedly opposing it in past reform efforts.

Regardless of whether e-verify will finally be implemented or not, there are very real issues with the U.S. labor supply. Imagine President Trump’s infrastructure plans were to take on full throttle.

The one little problem with implementing them is that it may create more demand for construction jobs than can be filled in the United States.

Ironically, the launch of infrastructure projects could lead even Hispanics – the citizens and legal residents at least – to rejoice about one aspect of the Trump agenda: They are and remain the backbone of the U.S. construction industry.