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Five Key Points on Trump and Immigration

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Donald Trump is set to officially kick off his re-election tonight with a rally in Orlando, Florida. Trump, who launched his presidential campaign four years ago by descending a golden escalator and slandering Mexicans as rapists, is set to return to the same playbook of obsessive fear-mongering around immigrants – his xenophobia is the beating heart of Trumpism and will be front and center in his remarks tonight and in his 2020 re-election campaign.

Below are five key points to keep in mind about Trump and immigration (each point explored in detail in the following pages):

  1. Trump’s immigration record is one of failure and cruelty
  2. Trump’s a hypocrite on immigration
  3. In poll after poll, Americans don’t support Trump’s immigration vision – they’ve even become more pro-immigrant in Trump era
  4. Trump made 2018 midterms all about immigration … and xenophobia backfired
  5. What it all means for 2020: Democrats need not fear this fight with Trump

(1) Trump’s immigration record is one of failure and cruelty.

Trump is largely a failure on his signature issue, failing to build his border wall (let alone make Mexico pay for it) while presiding over deterrence-only policies that have failed and dramatically worsened the humanitarian and refugee crisis. In fact, the Trump administration inherited the lowest number of southwest border apprehensions in 46 years. The prime reason Trump is failing is because his approach completely misdiagnoses what’s happening – a cruel, hardline, and deterrence-only approach is ineffective when facing a refugee crisis of Central Americans fleeing for their lives (by contrast, Democrats and policy experts have proposed a rational and effective strategy for the border and addressing refugees – see here and here and here for more).

Of course, Trump’s immigration record goes well beyond the border – it’s the mix of cruelty and incompetence on display via the ongoing family separation crisis that has inflicted trauma on thousands of children as young as four months old; it’s the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and TPS holders whose lives and futures have been thrown into disarray and anxiety due to this administration’s ongoing efforts to strip their status; it’s the untold thousands of long-settled families across America who have lost a loved one to indiscriminate deportations and who are living in fear as Trump renews his promise to embark on massive shock and awe immigration raids against families. But as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes, “Trump’s threat to unleash deportations — while a genuine humanitarian menace — is also a reminder that on his signature issue, Trump is caught in a feedback loop of failure. A given threat or act of toughness fails to produce the desired effect, only to be followed by another threat or act of toughness, which Trump and his supporters then propagandistically hype as forceful and effective.”

(2) Trump’s a hypocrite on immigration.

Trump is not only a failure on immigration, but a fraud and a hypocrite on his signature issue as well (as well as the walking definition of an exploitative unscrupulous employer). Trump vilifies immigrants publicly while hiring and profiting off them in his private enterprises. The business model of his network of companies has relied on an exploitative, two-tiered system that treats undocumented workers differently. Last December, the New York Times broke the story of Victorina Morales, Sandra Diaz and other workers from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, telling their stories of hard work, low pay, no benefits and unfair treatment. The Washington Post exposed Trump’s reliance on undocumented immigrants at Trump enterprises in New York and uncovered a “pipeline” of undocumented workers from Costa Rica to build the Bedminster property. And Univision recently reported that Trump’s winery in Virginia hired undocumented workers who worked “long hours from sunrise to sunset, without overtime pay.”

Today, prior to Trump’s Orlando rally, the very workers who kept his businesses running — often while being cheated and abused – will join with local American workers to demonstrate unity not division among all workers impacted by Trump’s hypocrisy toward immigrants and his economic policies that hurt all workers. And America’s Voice is launching a new series of radio and digital ad campaigns running in Florida highlighting Trump’s hypocrisy.

(3) In poll after poll, Americans don’t support Trump’s immigration vision – they’ve even become more pro-immigrant in the Trump era.

A Fox News poll released this week finds that, by a 2:1 margin (50-24%), Americans think Trump’s enforcement of immigration laws has “gone too far” instead of “not far enough.” The same poll also found that Americans support Dreamers’ citizenship by a 73-24% margin, with even a majority of Republicans backing the idea. A recent Priorities USA poll of voters in the critical states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin found that by a margin of 50% to 41% the issue hurts Trump more than it helps. Recent polling from Global Strategy Group, on behalf of FWD.us found that Americans back citizenship for Dreamers by a margin of 77% – 18%.

These polls are just recent examples of a broader phenomenon – polling finds that Americans are growing increasingly pro-immigrant in the Trump era – with record-high percentages thinking immigration is a good thing and the public consistently backing earned citizenship for immigrants with deep ties to the U.S.

(4) Trump made 2018 midterms all about immigration … and xenophobia backfired.

As Trump gears up for another ugly campaign, the lessons from 2018 should be salient. Remember that Trump and many Republicans relied on a “divide and distract” strategy that attempted to keep the focus on immigration at the expense of the kitchen table issues. Trump talked about caravans and crime and Democrats talked about healthcare and wages. But xenophobia backfired. Democrats won the popular vote by the largest midterm margin in history, flipping 40 House seats, limiting Senate losses, and making huge inroads in state capitals and state legislatures. Analysts, including Republican pollster David Winston, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, and journalist Ron Brownstein concluded that Trump’s reliance on xenophobia and the fact that most GOP candidates followed the same strategy directly contributed to the GOP’s electoral wipeout.

Instead of learning any lessons, Trump seems to have ignored the consequences of his hard-edged, race baiting closing argument in 2018 and is now seemingly more obsessed with immigration and race-baiting than ever. Is it because he’s cracked the code of the presidential electorate? We think not.

(5) What it all means for 2020: Democrats need not fear this fight with Trump

As America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry reminds us in a USA Today op-ed published today:

His obsession with immigration fires up his core supporters but backfires badly with everyone else … Democrats need to expose Trump’s cynical motivation for obsessing about immigration. He wants to get voters focused on blaming ‘the other’ so he can keep them from focusing on kitchen-table issues…

Democrats need not fear this fight with Trump. They need to take it to him. Because on his signature issue, Democrats support solutions that hit the mark with the majority of Americans, while Trump is an abject failure and a world-class hypocrite.