How Democrats Gave Us Trump’s Immigration Nightmare

America’s anti-immigrant, enforcement-first framework has been decades in the making. Can Democrats undo it?

If you were to choose just one issue that best captured the awfulness of Donald Trump, it would probably be immigration. In the summer of 2015, his racist remarks that Mexican immigrants were rapist and criminals helped jumpstart his presidential campaign; two years later, his rhetorical attacks have only become more graphic, with Trump telling an Ohio crowd in July that “these animals” will target beautiful young girls and “slice them and dice them with a knife.” It is an issue that crosses cultural and economic lines, activating white voters who feel economically and/or demographically threatened by America’s changing racial makeup. And it combines all Trump’s worst aspects: his demagoguery, his bigotry, and his penchant for vilifying society’s most vulnerable people.

Despite the fact that he has been unable to secure funding for his notorious wall on the Mexican border, Trump has taken full advantage of the various tools at his disposal to persecute the undocumented community in the United States. Through an executive order and subsequent memo, Trump has made all undocumented immigrants a priority for deportation, overturning Barack Obama’s policy of focusing on those who have committed serious crimes and recent border-crossers. Another part of the order, which is tied up in the courts, would strip federal funding from sanctuary cities. Trump has also called for the hiring of 15,000 more border patrol and immigration personnel, raising fears that an already emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is going to get more aggressive in its pursuit of undocumented immigrants.

In response, Democrats and pro-immigrant activists are scrambling. “We’re embattled, facing an administration that is trying to arrest and deport as many people as possible,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice told the New Republic. But if the Trump administration is exceptionally hostile towards immigrants, he is building upon an anti-immigrant, enforcement-first framework that was implemented over the past few decades not only by conservative presidents like George W. Bush, but also by liberal ones like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Trump’s all-out assault on immigrants has cast into sharp relief the many failures of the Democratic Party when it comes immigration policy. “We just handed this really horrible system over to a racist administration,” Silky Shah, co-director of the Detention Watch Network, told me. “It’s pretty terrifying.”

By Clio Chang for NEW REPUBLIC
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