Power  /  Antecedent

How Republicans Set the Stage for Trump’s Corrosive Ideas on Immigration

Trump's language might be uniquely vulgar but his ideas are part of a long trend.
Donald Trump
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Since the 1980s, Democrats have successfully thwarted these repeated Republican efforts to dismantle the core tenets of the 1965 act by drawing a bright line between legal and unauthorized immigration streams. They defended current levels of legal immigration as reasonable and instead identified the real problem as the porous Southern border that facilitates illicit entry.

This victory has come at a price, however. By framing legal immigration as intrinsically “good,” Democrats have acceded that unauthorized immigration is “bad.” Consequently, both parties have agreed to massive spending increases on border security aimed at preventing “illegal” immigration, a political ritual that continues unabated despite negligible returns on investment.

The Republicans pushing for restriction gained newfound traction within their own party beginning in the 1990s by reframing immigration as a national security matter rather than a labor or human rights issue. The World Trade Center bombing in 1993 marked a key turning point and loomed large in the bipartisan support for the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which effectively linked immigration and terrorism.

Though President George W. Bush, along with some Republican legislators, favored comprehensive immigration reform, the hard-liners and allies in the conservative media succeeded in beating back reform efforts during both the Bush and Obama years. Now, in the era of Trump, the nativist faction is ascendant — with a vocal champion in the White House who has unabashedly exploited racial and cultural anxieties to shore up support for exclusionary policies.

Taken as a whole, Trump’s recent statement and conservative talking points about the perils of the current immigration system underscore the racial underpinnings of this