On the fifth day, the strongman dealt with immigration.
His executive orders will block refugees from “high-risk countries,” penalize disobedient cities and authorize the construction of the border wall, formalizing the war on foreigners in the “nation of immigrants” and keeping true to the tenets of the populist demagoguery that helped Trump usurp the White House.
The actions announced during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security cover several fronts. The first suspends the issuance of visas to nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, a mostly symbolic move given that in practice visas issued in those countries are already almost nonexistent. It also halts the resettlement of Syrian refugees, which isn’t as cruel as it is laughable since the number of Syrians accepted to the U.S. is a fraction of what other countries have accepted.
Last year, the U.S. granted asylum to 10,000 Syrians. In the same period, more than one million have arrived in Europe. Neighboring Canada, with a population of one-tenth of the United States, has welcomed 30,000. But these data do not enter into the popular narrative, which would suggest a great tide of suspected terrorists crossing the border without restriction, swelling the ranks of ISIS sleeper cells in American cities. Obviously, this is blatantly false: The asylum process is extremely thorough and involves several layers of intense scrutiny and interviews.
Then there is the fact that the terrorist attacks that did occur on American soil, including those in Boston, Orlando and New York, were not perpetrated by Syrian refugees but rather by second-generation American citizens. Again, all of this is secondary to the “alternative facts” motivating Trump’s infamous southern wall, a centerpiece of his election campaign and the most frequently repeated slogan of the Trump base.
But the wall — that rallying cry that greeted Trump at areas nationwide — would seal the Mexican border at a time when illegal immigration has actually been on a steady decline. As Pew Research Center notes, the number of clandestine border crossings began to diminish in 2007, and by 2014 they had fallen to 5.6 million.
Those are just statistics, though, and therefore irrelevant for the purposes of an artfully fueled psychosis — fear of the invading foreigner — which leaders have employed since the dawn of time to maintain power. The rancor it creates leaves no room for logic; see the logistical impediments to Hadrian’s anti-invasion wall. In the American Southwest, the crossing is rugged terrain that spans 3,200 kilometers through the Rio Grande, mountain ranges, farmland, a few urban areas and boundless stretches of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The cost of this pharaoh’s endeavor is estimated at $20 billion, a sum that remains to be allocated. Even with a favorable Congress, the construction will have to overcome numerous engineering and bureaucratic hurdles, including private land and Native American reservations, such as the Tohono and O’odham in Arizona. There’s also the not-so-small fact that there’s already a fence construction in progress, raising the (rhetorical) question of whether the addition of a wall is primarily demagogic. Hundreds of kilometers of the border are already protected by a fortified barrier, which, in reality, is a less effective deterrent than the natural obstacles, like a desert that claims hundreds of lives each year.
The hard line on immigration is a victory for the populist wing of the Trump government, which is headed by Steve Bannon, the main exponent of “anti-multiculturalism,” to use an understatement. Grimly significant is the explicit warning to “sanctuary cities,” the municipalities that have already announced they do not intend to cooperate with anti-immigrant federal policies.
The day after Trump threatened to send “the Feds” to Chicago, the specter of retaliation against sanctuary cities is another front. The war is mainly against Hispanics, who make up the majority of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in the U.S. (Obama granted amnesty to 750,000 students and 56 million legal residents.) Trump’s surreal allegations of rampant electoral fraud are part of this war, but he also hopes that keeping the allegation alive will help explain why he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.7 million.
The suggestion that undocumented immigrants are muddying elections has long been a mainstay of far-right conspiracy theorists, even though analysts (not just those on the “left”) regularly refute the claim. A thorough Wall Street Journal investigation recently uncovered a grand total of nine irregularities out of hundreds of millions of votes.
The true goal is to feed the paranoia and to inhibit voting access for minorities. For the right, this is a crucial goal. The project involves the erosion of the Voting Rights Act that secured the right of blacks to vote in former Confederate states. Trump could help accelerate those plans and preserve the political future of the right. A multi-ethnic America would be a can of worms for the Republican Party.