Trump ‘piv­ots’ fur­ther to­ward xeno­pho­bia

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

— Is this the “pivot” by Don­ald Trump we’ve all been wait­ing for? It looks more like a gi­ant step back­ward.

In­stead of adopt­ing a mod­er­ate po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion that could make the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee more palat­able to the main­stream — which, polls in­di­cate, doesn’t fa­vor mass de­por­ta­tions and sup­ports earned le­gal sta­tus if il­le­gal im­mi­grants ac­knowl­edge wrong­do­ing — a re­cent shift in Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion plan makes the can­di­date ap­pear more xeno­pho­bic.

I didn’t be­lieve this was pos­si­ble for some­one who launched his cam­paign on a prom­ise to pro­tect Amer­i­cans from Mex­i­can crim­i­nals and rapists — a fear-mon­ger­ing tac­tic that seems passe now that Trump is more wor­ried about the Is­lamic State.

The can­di­date is fram­ing his re­cent call for “ex­treme vet­ting” of le­gal im­mi­grants who come from coun­tries where there is a lot of ter­ror­ism as a na­tional se­cu­rity mea­sure. Sup­pos­edly the ob­jec­tive is to pre­vent fu­ture at­tacks against the United States. Yet it’s also be­ing pitched as part of his over­all im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

This is not at all help­ful. As ev­i­denced by the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in San Bernardino and Or­lando, the new threat is from Mus­lim Amer­i­cans who are al­ready in the United States but have be­come rad­i­cal­ized. How does crack­ing down on im­mi­gra­tion stop that?

Also, the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate in the United States is largely a dis­cus­sion about what to do with Mex­i­can im­mi­grants who, in bet­ter eco­nomic times, stream across the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and who now seem to be headed in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. It’s not fair to mix this group with rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ists. Here’s how we tell them apart: One threat­ens our lives by want­ing to do harm; the other makes our lives pos­si­ble by do­ing the cook­ing, land­scap­ing and vac­u­um­ing.

Trump’s vet­ting plan is the brain­child of Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, to whom the can­di­date out­sourced the job of shap­ing his im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Since th­ese ideas are on loan, Trump may not see them through if he is elected pres­i­dent. The GOP stan­dard-bearer seems to have no core be­liefs, but he does have a will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise. He might just be push­ing a right-wing hard line on im­mi­gra­tion to en­er­gize the GOP base, with no in­ten­tion of ever im­ple­ment­ing it.

Ear­lier this year, Trump had an off-the-record con­ver­sa­tion

SAN DIEGO

with The New York Times ed­i­to­rial board in which he sup­pos­edly said that his cam­paign rhetoric about re­mov­ing scores of il­le­gal im­mi­grants with a “de­por­ta­tion force” was prob­a­bly not some­thing that he would fol­low through with. In­stead, Trump said, that kind of talk was merely the start­ing point of a ne­go­ti­a­tion.

This would mean that Ses­sions could soon find him­self on the side­lines, as have other Trump former ad­vis­ers. Still, for now, the se­na­tor seems to be driv­ing Trump’s pol­icy agenda on im­mi­gra­tion. And that’s not good.

It’s one thing to take a stand against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion be­cause, as Trump said early in his cam­paign, with­out laws and borders, you don’t have a coun­try. But it’s an­other thing to make it harder to im­mi­grate legally. Le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is some­thing that most Amer­i­cans sup­port, and seem to agree isn’t the real prob­lem.

Af­ter all, if you ar­gue that peo­ple have to fol­low the rules, how do you then turn around and pe­nal­ize those who have done just that??

You’d be sur­prised. This con­flat­ing of le­gal and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion hap­pens ev­ery day in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, which has al­ways been about keep­ing out not just the un­doc­u­mented but for­eign­ers in gen­eral.

For one thing, that’s where the num­bers are. There are, in the United States, more than three times as many for­eign-born Amer­i­cans (roughly 40 mil­lion) who are here legally as there are il­le­gal im­mi­grants (about 11 mil­lion).

Be­sides, some in­sist that le­gal im­mi­gra­tion leads to more il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion be­cause peo­ple from other coun­tries will try to join fam­ily mem­bers in the United States, even if they must do so il­le­gally.

So, if what mo­ti­vates you to take a hard line against im­mi­gra­tion is a con­cern over the racial and eth­nic com­po­si­tion of Amer­ica, sooner or later you have to drop the pre­tense that you’re only con­cerned with il­le­gal im­mi­grants and go af­ter their le­gal brethren.

Ac­cord­ingly, whereas Trump was ini­tially wor­ried only about il­le­gal im­mi­grants, he now wants to put ob­sta­cles in the way of some le­gal im­mi­grants — if they come from the wrong coun­tries.

The GOP nom­i­nee brags about his in­tel­li­gence. But you have to won­der: What part of “le­gal” does The Don­ald not un­der­stand?

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Wash­ing­ton Post. His email is reuben@ruben­navarette.com.

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