Image Credit: Mexicali, Baja California, Yvonne Esperanza

August 17, 2015; Salon

Although this columnist announced his plan to not cover the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, that commitment will be violated in this instance simply to take note of Trump’s announced policy ideas on immigration because of what they represent about a segment of the American electorate.

Trump’s immigration “reform” plan includes the following:

  1. Build a wall along the entire U.S./Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it—and if Mexico proves recalcitrant, penalize Mexico (and Mexicans) by taking a number of actions: “Impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards—of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico. [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options.]”
  2. Cut off federal grants to all “sanctuary cities”
  3. End “birthright citizenship”
  4. “Mandatory return of all criminal aliens,” and for those countries that refuse to accept “their own criminals,” cancelling visas
  5. Establish a “hire Americans first” requirement for U.S. employers

Apparently, though it is not specified in his published immigration policy agenda, Trump told NBC News that he would rescind the executive actions that President Obama issued to protect children from deportation—presumably the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that began in 2012 after the failure of the DREAM Act in Congress—and somehow deport all undocumented immigrants. “They have to go,” Trump proclaimed.

If Trump himself is a loudmouthed buffoon whose overall bluster and incoherence will eventually do him in, why take the plan seriously? Because there are elements of this plan that appeal to the American populace—and more than you might imagine.

In Salon, Joan Walsh writes that this plan would require the creation of a massive police state with enough police to track down and deport millions of undocumented immigrants—plus, according to his “keep families together” language, their children who might have been born in the U.S. Just by the numbers, the police state required for this plan would be unavoidable, but the scary part is that many Americans would go along with that, given their fear and hostility toward immigrants. Don’t imagine that the negative reaction to the militarized police apparatus that showed up in Ferguson and elsewhere isn’t applauded by many Americans.

The Trump immigration plan also raises the canard that immigrants of all sorts, undocumented as well as visa’ed, are taking away jobs from Americans. The plan makes special emphasis on the purported impact of immigrants on jobs and wages available to African Americans. The appeal is to Americans who see themselves as having been left behind in the nation’s purported economic revival. Wages are almost stagnant, the new employment that has emerged in the wake of the Great Recession is largely in low wage sectors such as leisure and hospitality, and wage and employment gains have been uneven among racial and ethnic groups, particularly for black men and women. When American workers are frustrated with their prospects, the manipulative tactic of a political leader to find a group to blame as the cause—undocumented immigrants—will find some resonance.

Trump’s proposed hire-Americans-first component epitomizes the nativist underpinnings of all of the recommendations. Nonprofits such as the Texas Organizing Project have been mobilizing around the nation to support immigration reform, but the new dynamic of Trump’s proposals and their resonance with a slice of the American electorate should be a concern for all nonprofits. While nativist groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies have been generating recommendations and statistics much like Trump’s, having a loud-mouthed presidential candidate give them a platform elevates nativism to a new level. Concerns that their policy recommendations toward undocumented immigrants might be inhumane and prohibitively expensive don’t faze the nativists, motivated by “make Mexico pay” and deprive-immigrants-of-federal-program-services pipedreams.

The facts don’t matter to the nativists or their national political mouthpieces. This is a new and scary level of the anti-immigrant movement that should spur reasonable, normal, democratically-focused nonprofits to think deeply about how they respond among their own constituencies, whose anger with national politics and economic torpor might lead them in nativist directions.—Rick Cohen