When we talk about Donald Trump’s immigration policy, we say that he is racist, that he is cruel, that he is authoritarian. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But not only that. Republicans may look dumb, but in practice, they are extremely disciplined and strategic.
On the night of President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, a group of the Republican Party elite dined in one of the most expensive steakhouses in Washington, DC and outlined a plan: everything the president supports, we reject, no matter what. And that’s exactly what they did. The result? They won the Congress in 2010 and won the Presidency in 2016. It worked well.
It means that this is not a group of people who would spend so much energy and political capital just because of an irrational hatred of Latinos, Arabs and all other “nonwhites” – they only care about power and money.
One reason for targeting immigrants in public discourse is obvious: a large part of the Republican base is rather racist and is encouraged by that rhetoric. But it’s worth noting that Trump’s voter is not a poor, ignorant, and unemployed person who worked in an old factory as roughly portrayed in the media – he is richer than the country average and with an educational level equal to the national average.
These people have money (and small businesses) and need immigrants to do all the hard and underpaid work, increase their profit and also lower their cost of living. There are 25 million immigrants working in the US and many in the areas of construction, maintenance, restaurants, personal services, administrative services, sales, and agriculture. In the American farms, it is estimated that 70% of the workers are immigrants, and half are illegal.
The economic value of immigrants and their human decency are key elements of the Democratic discourse in favor of immigration. Trump says he steals jobs from Native Americans, and Democrats say they actually move the economy; Trump says they are dangerous, and Democrats show that this is just an excuse to put them behind bars. For the most part, the point is: Republican anti-immigration speech is just a smokescreen. For their leaders, immigrants are not only a threat because they are lazy, criminals, terrorists or any other racist label being used against them. It’s because they vote for Democrats.
Giving citizenship to millions of outsiders who have suffered a lot of discrimination means that these people (and their children) will not vote for the business party, which is almost exclusively white and openly racist. That is, even if squeezing immigrants against the wall can affect many companies’ profits in the short run, it is a strategy to maintain power in the long run (or by pushing the inevitable a little further).
Between 18 and 27% of Asians and 28% of Latinos voted for Trump in 2016 while 65-79% of Asians and 65% of Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton.
The Republicans know how to stop the bloodshed from losing votes. In the past, he has successfully implemented various strategies to suppress the black vote. They criminalize their group and the neighborhoods where they live and, at the same time, prevent the right to vote of people who were once convicted of a criminal offense, even after years of paying their sentences. The incarceration rate of blacks is 5 times higher than that of whites.
Republicans also organize to take charge of specific constituencies with the aim of reducing the number of seats in the Congress that blacks and Latinos can occupy, and then have decision-making power. They also erase millions of people from eligible voters lists by any technical excuse; increase the difficulty in registering for demanding bureaucracies; decrease the number of ballot boxes in non-white neighborhoods; and mark the voting day on a business day without a public holiday, preventing people working at non-flexible hours to vote.
The result is obvious: only 8% of blacks voted for Trump and 88% chose Clinton.
The other very important reason why so many Americans hate immigrants so much is that the country does not understand – and does not want to understand – its own history and its role in the world.