Donald Trump is confident that the issue of immigration will help Republicans win in the midterm elections this November. As he said at a recent ceremony honoring immigration agency employees, “I think we’re going to have much more of a red wave than what you’re going to see as a phony blue wave. Blue wave means crime, it means open borders. Not good.” He criticized Democrats as “extremists” seeking “to abolish America’s borders.”
Trump has some reason to be confident. The immigration issue, as he has framed it since his candidacy for president, helped fire up a base of passionate followers who’ve responded to his message that immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, threaten American’s safety and economic security. As he has articulated that message in rallies around the country, he has seen it reflected back at him in the excitement it has unfailingly aroused in his crowds.
But there are reasons why Trump’s confidence may well be misplaced. Witnessing the cruel fruits of his immigration initiatives, millions of Americans have seen pictures of migrant children warehoused in cages because of his “zero tolerance” border policy. They have seen Dreamers (young people brought here as children) used by Trump as negotiating pawns in a crisis that he manufactured when he rescinded a well-received Obama-era program last fall.
But there is another factor that will certainly cast shadows over Trump’s “build-the-wall” aspirations and those of the candidates aligned with him: a growing awareness of the white supremacist ideology driving his immigration rhetoric and associated policies. Sometimes the ideology is coded in law-and-order terms, as when Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified the “zero tolerance” border policy as a “commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law.” But often the racism is readily apparent. Americans are familiar with candidate Trump’s references to Mexicans as criminals, rapists, and “people that have lots of problems,” and many may recall his reference last year to undocumented immigrants as “animals” who are responsible for “drugs, the gangs, the cartels, the crisis of smuggling and trafficking, MS 13.”
This racially charged discourse was cited last year in lawsuits opposing Trump’s rescission of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and it was acknowledged in legal rulings that temporarily blocked the administration’s move.
What is significant about these suits and rulings is how the dots have already been connected in the legal arena. Racialism has been identified and factored into far-reaching legal judgments. What remains to be seen in the coming weeks is how these dots will continue to be connected in electoral politics as well.