By R. MARK FREY
ST. PAUL, Minn. (July 28, 2015) — On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States with much fanfare before an enthusiastic crowd (rumored to be peopled by paid actors) at the Trump Tower in New York City with the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Most striking about this announcement and the event’s circus-like atmosphere was the now oft-quoted slur Trump delivered in his attack on undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And, some, I assume, are good people.”
The response was swift from many corners. Some, such as Univision, NBC, NASCAR, and Macy’s, cut their ties with Trump as did Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley criticized Trump as did conservative pundits George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Charles Krauthammer and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (Fox News and Wall Street Journal), among others. But, strangely, Trump’s fellow Republican candidates have offered delayed (taking between two to three weeks to respond) and even lukewarm criticism while some (such as Ted Cruz) applaud Trump’s comments or simply state they understand the anger he’s tapped into across the country.
This kind of rhetoric must be working because Trump leads significantly in several polls taken during the month of July with either Scott Walker or Jeb Bush trailing behind in second place. This result should not be a surprise in light of a recent 2015 Pew Research Center poll finding Republicans clearly troubled by the presence of immigrants in the United States.
Roughly 63 percent of Republicans believe immigrants are a burden on the United States by taking away jobs, housing, and health care. Only 27 percent find immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work and talents. Democrats, on the other hand, reverse that with 32 percent finding immigrants to be a burden and 62 percent to be a positive force here.
Independents more closely track the Democrats with 36 percent finding immigrants to be a burden and 57 percent as making a positive contribution to the country. Even more striking is the finding that 59 percent of Republicans believe the GOP not doing a good job in representing their views on undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants while 43 percent of Democrats take a similar view.
Clearly, Trump is a savvy player who knows how to manipulate the media and draw attention to himself as he seeks the Republican nomination, especially when taking into account his more moderate statements about immigration and immigrants in the not so distant past. These are undoubtedly self-serving comments. But, what does it say about politicians’ compulsion to demonize groups to improve their position in the political race? And, in some ways, isn’t this a case of the “chickens coming home to roost”?
The Republican Party has for many years used crude, nativist fears of foreigners coming to the United States to wreak havoc and destroy our way of life as a means to motivate voters. Both the Pew Research Center Poll and Trump’s lead in the polls say as much.
The Pew Research Center Poll also found that some 72% of us say it’s time to do something about allowing undocumented immigrants to stay here. The vile rhetoric is distracting and takes away from the sorely needed national discussion of the issues, not just the matter of undocumented immigrants but also immigration policy in general.
We need a mature discussion about the role of immigration in the 21st century. What are the country’s needs with declining birth rates and baby boomers moving out of the workforce through retirement? Is our nation committed to helping peoples who have fled persecution in other countries? Should we allow family-based immigration to continue? If so, which family members should be allowed in? Are we still committed to the ideal of being a nation of immigrants? Why is immigration good for the country? Why is immigration not so good for the country?
Until we have this discussion and a serious, concerted effort to tackle this as was done years ago with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we are unfortunately subject to more of the divisive rhetoric, fear-mongering, and veiled racism that has been present for far too long.*
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.
*Information about the Pew Research Center Poll may be found at http://www.people-press.org/2015/06/04/broad-public-support-for-legal-status-for-undocumented-immigrants/