Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump issued a threat on Twitter – as he has since he began his run for U.S. president – that generated fear in the immigrant community. He threatened to deport 1 million people who live in the U.S. without legal documentation, only to postpone the beginning of the raids a few days later as a gesture of goodwill at the request of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The president added that the complete withdrawal of the threat depended on congressional approval of the legislative changes to stop people from Central America who are seeking asylum from entering the U.S.
What do we need to keep in mind in order to understand the reason behind these announcements? This article explores a few points that need to be clearly identifies so we are not deceived by Trump’s media tricks during a campaign season.
At least for now, we have to recognize that there is context to Trump’s actions. The same day Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, he announced his intention to file with the federal election authorities for reelection in 2020. He has based his presidency on campaigning from day one of his term. In that sense, the messages that he uses to maintain his presidency are, essentially, the same as he used to achieve what was impossible, that is, his election as president, in the opinion of the vast majority of election experts, including public opinion polls.
It must be pointed out that once again, there are anti-Mexican, anti-Central American and generally anti-immigration messages in these key reelection tweets. For that reason, we should not be surprised that he announces the raids, and then a few days later announces they are being postponed. There is no doubt that the Trump team knows very well how to keep the president’s name on the front page, in addition to running a reelection campaign that has already started.
A second point that must be emphasized is that the announcement of the raids is absolutely Trumpian and full of exaggeration. Accordingly, we need to examine Trump’s messages in view of the facts. According to a recent investigation by Vice News, in 2017, Immigration and Control Enforcement (known by its acronym ICE) arrested 40,066 people who lacked immigration documents; the number rises to 143,370 when one includes arrests made by the 80 local police forces that collaborate under arrangements ICE.
It is important to compare the statement that “a million” people will be arrested with the capacity ICE has to deal with those arrests, even with increased capacity under cooperation agreements with local police agencies. It is also important to link ICE’s existing capacity for arrests with the announcement that the raids would be postponed in order to allow time for legislative solutions that would permit Trump to solve the “dreadful” border crisis as a result of the exodus from Central America. It is dreadful because it is an invented crisis. If we review statistics from the 80s and 90s, we realize that the number of people now arriving at the U.S. southern border is not the highest the country’s recent history.
At this point, we should look at this in light of what is happening in Congress. On Thursday, June 27, Congress approved a supplementary budget request for nearly $4.5 billion to strengthen the Trump administration’s death machinery. The budget that will go to the president is in essence what the Senate approved a day before, which does not include funds to strengthen the health and security of people in detention, as did legislation approved by the House on June 25. In that way, both the Republican-majority Senate, and the Democrat-majority House s have given their consent to the actions of the Trump administration.
In an ironic example of the U.S. government’s conduct, the recent death of a young Salvadoran father and his small daughter as they tried to cross the Rio Grande, as well as the images that show the continued practice of literally jailing children from Central America, have been manipulated to justify the Trump administration’s actions. The new budget allocations approved by Congress will increase not only tragedies like the ones mentioned above, but will increase the constant attacks on the right to seek asylum.
A third point to consider is that the specter of increasing the capacity for arrest which this administration has promised to do is related to a fundamental aspect of this issue: the great business that detention of foreigners has become. In mid-May, it was revealed that for the first time, the country had reached the capacity to detain more than 52,000 people per night. The cost of each bed per day is approximately $150. This means more income for private companies dedicated to this business, ones that that sell their services to the federal government and which notably supported Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
A fourth aspect of the Trump administration’s actions is the severe decrease in the U.S. birth rate, according to statistics released last May. However, if we analyze which ethnic or racial group has the lowest birth rates, curiously, it is white women, while Latin American and Asian women have the highest birth rates. We should view this information in light of the supposed difficulties that some sectors of the economy claim to face in the effort to maintain their work force and the increasing number of foreign workers throughout the U.S.
Both situations show a direction that, at a glance, seems to contradict Trump’s anti-immigrant spirit. Nevertheless, that is not the case. It would not be strange if in the near future, Trump proposed a significant expansion of the temporary work visa programs in response to the pattern of demographic change related to the work force. It is difficult to imagine the future of the labor market in the U.S. in the medium and long term without an injection of foreign labor.
The key question is in what context would that occur. The massive arrival of foreigners with temporary work permits would ensure that key economic sectors could count on a more docile labor force, ready to work for very little, and it would give the federal government the advantage of not having any political responsibility to that population, since, according to current law, no temporary worker can apply for a permanent residency visa based on the number of years of work in the U.S. It is well known that in the majority of cases, the option of applying for citizenship requires at least five years of permanent residence status.
But the crisis created on the border and the attack on the migrant community are not the only things that the Trump administration is going to keep front and center. There are at least two additional issues that are worrisome. One is the trade war with China, with which he seeks to promote the idea that the U.S. is going to punish China even if that has adverse financial repercussions. Trump will continue to push that issue until next year, with potential surprises as Election Day approaches, so he can sell the idea that the president was able to defeat China.
Yet another issue is the threat of a warlike conflict on a grand scale with Iran. Even if such a conflict does not occur, the administration is building the foundation for an increase in the Defense Department budget. There are economic interests that are nourished even if there isn’t a conflict, but a threat like this has the potential to unify U.S. citizens against a serious foreign enemy who has been portrayed in such a way that the whole world perceives it as a serious enemy and is thus seen as a serious threat to the United States. All according to Trump’s calculations.
This entire situation is taking place against a background in which the Democratic Party continues to issue a shamefully tepid response in opposition. The Democrats have not managed to develop any well-considered strategy to confront what the Trump administration stands for, beyond taking positions that are 100% reactionary. There is a lack of any genuine opposition that definitively rejects the way in which this administration has acted on issues like the the exodus from Central America, the relationship with China and a potential war with Iran.
In facing a panorama like this where ethical and moral considerations appear to be absent from the formal political debate, it is imperative that an organized civil society committed to the ideal of full of opportunity for all, respect for human rights and to strengthening those principles, assume a much more active role, so it can be a counterweight to the predominant political reality. The idea of Trump’s reelection, which at the moment is not impossible, could do serious damage to the welfare of desperate people who seek a safe place to live, hoping for decent conditions for their sons and daughters and the rest of their families.
We should work to prevent people who crown themselves with influential roles as presidents and legislators from becoming false prophets. On the contrary, these leaders should be people motivated by universal values that, based on logical solidarity and true common interest, unite the people of a region that is linked so profoundly: Central America, Mexico and the U.S.