Trump’s Anti-Immigration Policies at a New Level

Trump is treading dangerous waters with his anti-immigration policies. No doubt Melania Trump’s visit to migrant children shelters was an unequaled media coup. To make sure nobody would misunderstand (especially Trump’s fans), she wore on her trip out to Texas and back (but not when she was visiting the shelters) a very special coat. Everyone took note including the foreign press:

The message on the back of her jacket is clear: ““I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” But it’s not what you think, she is not rebelling against her husband, she just really likes children and she really believes in him, sharing in his worldview.

Trump’s tweet made this absolutely clear:

And of course, the policy of separating children from their parents wasn’t something Trump invented, it’s been “the Dems” all along – everything that’s wrong with US legislation on immigration is the Dems’ fault:

And if you don’t believe that, Trump has the winning video artfully edited to show what “needs” to be shown (and only that) – a very useful propaganda tool when tweets stop working:

So what is the real situation?

For a dispassionate observer (like myself), it is obvious that the rise in the number of children separated from their parents results directly from Trump’s own “zero tolerance” policy.

It is equally clear that politicians have for a very long time, for at least 20 years – yes, since Bill Clinton’s days! – played on people’s fears of foreigners.

Nothing will get you votes more easily than evoking hordes of invading illegal immigrants, fake news or not. This is how (or at least one of the major ways) Brexit was won, with images (and speeches) stirring up people’s emotions and their natural xenophobic tendencies:

In the photo: Brexit poster Source: PRI How the Brexit Campaign used refugees to scare voters

Nobody likes the idea of having one’s own home ransacked by foreign intruders. Foreigners who will take your jobs and enjoy all the benefits of national health services without paying taxes! And this echoes strongly with people who are already hurting because of globalization, people who have lost their job or only have temporary jobs, people who can’t pay for their kids’ education.

The fact that none of this is true never sinks in, largely because people prefer to have their natural prejudices (hatred of the outsider) confirmed rather than having to go to the trouble of finding out the truth (which is inevitably uncomfortable).

It’s a shame, because historical evidence is both overwhelming and not even hard to find. For example, some countries have famously built their economic power on immigrants, Australia is a prime example and often cited. But the largest, best-known example is America itself, including Mr. Trump whose grandfather was an immigrant.

As to more recent evidence, that too, is right under everyone’s nose. Research everywhere comes again and again to the same conclusion: they are not an economic burden, on the contrary.

This conclusion applies to both immigrants and political refugees, a subset of immigrants, the ones that can claim protection under international law. A recent study shows that giving a path to migrants to gain European citizenship actually results in positive economic impacts.


Instead, there is rising evidence that the business of transporting and sheltering migrants can be and often is highly profitable. This is perhaps a natural outcome, to be expected. – People in a free society will always try to make money wherever they can. But it is a deeply disturbing one.

In Italy, the Minister of Interior Salvini is storming against NGOs that send boats in the Mediterranean to pick up immigrants (possibly, but not always, saving their lives). He accuses them of turning it into a business. He is determined to stop them, including sequestering the NGOs’ ships. His latest tweet regarding a German NGO’s boat that has just saved over 200 migrants leaves no doubt about his policy:

That roughly translates:

“The outlaw ship is now in Malta waters, with its cargo of 239 immigrants. For the safety of crew and passengers we asked that Malta open the ports. It is clear then that the ship must be seized, and its crew stopped. Never again [will they be allowed” at sea to traffic.”

And the Italian government that has been gifting NGOs €35 a day per refugee supported plans to bring this “refugee per diem” down to €20. A way to discourage the business of “doing good”.

Trump however is going in the other direction. The order he signed on 20 June calling for migrant families to be detained together is a gift to migrant shelter operators, construction companies and defense contractors.

In America, migrant shelters are definitely as noted by the New York Times, it is a billion dollar business. They reported that at least one nonprofit, Southwest Key programs, had won “at least $955 million in federal contracts since 2015” and that “about a dozen contractors operate more than 30 facilities in Texas alone, with numerous others contracted for about 100 shelters in 16 other states.” This suggests that it is in fact a multi-billion dollar business.

So now, with Trump’s order, children will be jailed with their parents and a lot of contractors are poised to get richer.

Surely there are better ways to solve the migration problem?

How about starting with accepting the evidence that they are not an economic burden?  And based on that, devising constructive “pathways to citizenship” for the deserving migrants?

Update 23 June: It has become clear that Trump’ s executive order to stop family separations does not solve two basic problems:

(1) the 2300 children already separated from their parents: when will they be allowed to rejoin them; is their whereabouts known? It appears no database exists showing where they were sent;

(2) resources to process migrants are strained as zero tolerance policy is maintained.

In other words, bureaucratic problems make it difficult for the administration to keep up with Trump’s executive orders – just as it found it difficult last year to execute the travel ban on citizens from predominantly Muslim countries. The risk is that the rise in immigration-related cases will divert DoJ resources from other work. Also the Department of Defense has to look for ways to house the immigrant families (up to 25,000 people) in new detention centers.

As to immigration legislation, it seems Congress will not look at any new bill before next week. In the meantime, since I wrote this article (22 June), Trump has accelerated the number of tweets, reaching an unprecedented level of some 25 tweets in 24 hours. Nothing new in them, except for a change in strategy that is leaving “the Senate in limbo“:

A “Red Wave” at mid-term? Maybe. His fans feel closer to him than ever reports the New York Times, but the question is: How many are they really, can their vote make the difference Trump hopes for?

Editors Note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of
Cover Image Credits: Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump administration, are being housed in tents next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
About the Author /

Claude Forthomme is a writer and an economist. A graduate of Columbia University, Claude held a variety of jobs before starting a 25-year career at the United Nations (Food and Agriculture), ending as Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia. She authored many fiction books under various pen names in both English and Italian; she is considered a prime exponent of Boomer literature and has founded the Boomer Lit Group on Goodreads. Her poetry has been included in "Freeze Frame", an international poetry anthology curated by British poet Oscar Sparrow (Gallo Romano Media, 2012).

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