Trump’s latest immigrant ban has little to do with a collapsing labour market during a global pandemic, and everything to do with election year politics.
Rather than focus on improving our public health infrastructure and emergency management systems, Trump is exploiting the Covid-19 global pandemic to mobilize his anti-immigrant voter base. His executive order barring issuance of immigrant visas for 60 days is the latest in a string of anti-immigrant executive actions.
From building a border wall with Mexico to issuing a Muslim Ban within weeks after becoming president, deporting and excluding non-European immigrants is the only consistent characteristic of Trump’s otherwise erratic administration.
During his presidential campaign, “Make America Great Again” was a rallying cry for his far-right, xenophobic political base. They understand this dog whistle is a promise to ‘Make America White Again’. Reversing decades of immigration policies that have brought people from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America lies at the centre of that white nationalist promise.
Over the past seven weeks, unemployment claims have reached an unprecedented 26 million. The dramatic loss of jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic has produced an unemployment rate somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Not since the Great Depression when unemployment reached a whopping 25 percent, has the country experienced such high rates of unemployment.
HIS SUPPORTERS UNDERSTAND THIS DOG WHISTLE IS A PROMISE TO ‘MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN’
Trump’s solution is to bar for 60 days parents and siblings of US citizens and green card holders, which constitute 0.0007 percent of the US population of 328 million. In 2019, the US issued 230,000 immigrants visas to siblings and parents of US citizens who are now subject to Trump’s 60-day immigration ban.
Thus, Trump’s proclamation that entry of “certain aliens as immigrants would be detrimental to the interests of the United States” is simply not supported by the facts. According to an authoritative report by the National Academy of Sciences, immigrants’ economic contributions are hard to replace because many new immigrants take low-skilled jobs that Americans are unwilling or unavailable to take.
Moreover, excluding the tiny percentage of people that would enter the labour market will do nothing to mitigate our economic woes caused by a historic global pandemic.
What Trump’s executive order will do quite well, however, is continue his emblematic strategy of blaming immigrants for America’s problems past, present and future.
The same spurious reasoning was used to justify the Muslim Ban. After only 10 days in office on January 27, 2017, Trump issued an expansive executive order with the expressed intent of excluding as many people from Muslim-majority countries as legally possible. What was the justification back then? Muslims are presumptively terrorists who make our nation less secure.
Like today’s family immigration ban, the government could not produce credible evidence that the hundreds of thousands of individuals harmed by the Muslim Ban had any remote association with terrorism. Indeed, there were already extensive processes in place to screen all immigrant and non-immigrant applicants for national security threats.
Trump’s real motive was to gain political points with his far- right, anti-immigrant base – not to make America safer.
But there is a method to Trump’s madness. For him and his die-hard supporters, making “America Great Again” requires reversing the unprecedented racial demographic changes that will occur in coming decades, strip whites of their majority status for the first time in American history. The thought of one day becoming a racial minority keeps Trump’s voter base up at night.
Many Americans voted for Trump because he promised to exclude and deport as many non-European immigrants as possible. Simultaneously, Trump calls for a change in immigration laws to replace family-based immigration with so-called merit-based immigration. Skeptics suspect any such system would disproportionately benefit European immigrants while disadvantaging immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
As the economy worsens due to a global pandemic (not immigrants) and Democrats rally around the presumptive nominee Joe Biden, Trump will become more xenophobic and Islamophobic. He will look for every opportunity to feed red meat to his far-right voter base eagerly looking for minorities to scapegoat.
Americans should brace themselves for more xenophobia from a president who may finally be held accountable for his many failures come November 2020.