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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Did Immigration Advocates Help Create Donald Trump?

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As Donald Trump marches (goose steps?) toward the Republican nomination, there's been much hand wringing about the reasons for his rise. But if you listen to his supporters, there are a few themes that stand out.
Mr. Trump's real estate empire and his political campaign were both built using immigrants.


One big issue is immigration. Last June, Mr. Trump called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and he has advocated banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Indeed, for a time, the only issue on the Trump campaign website was immigration (or maybe more accurately, anti-immigration).


There are many explanations for why Mr. Trump's xenophobia has resonated with his supporters: Fear of terrorists and criminals, economic and cultural concerns, racism and white supremacism. In a way, these are not new. For most of our country's history, U.S. immigration policies have reflected such sentiments, and at various times, all sorts of people have been blocked from entering the United States.


Here, however, I am interested in a different question: Whether the work of immigration advocates to help asylum seekers has contributed to the climate that produced Donald Trump.


Now wait just one gosh-darned second here, you say. Isn't this like blaming Jews for the Holocaust or blaming African Americans for the KKK? I think there's a difference. Allow me to explain--


Over the last 20 or so years, we've seen a marked expansion in the types of people who qualify for asylum. Some of this was Congressionally sanctioned--protecting victims of forced abortion, for example--but mostly, it was the result of creative lawyers pushing the boundaries of the law to protect their clients. Litigation has resulted in protection for victims of female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage. To a more limited extent, victims of criminal gangs can also qualify for protection (sometimes), and many talented attorneys are working hard to improve asylum-case outcomes for such people, whose lives often are at risk.


Until about 2012 or 2013, the effort to broaden the categories of protection was somewhat theoretical. More people were eligible, but the number of asylum seekers actually applying remained relatively stable. But then things changed.


Between 2009 and 2012, increasing numbers of people--mostly Central American--began arriving at the Southern border to seek asylum (in FY 2009, there were about 5,500 such asylum seekers; in FY 2012, there were over 13,600). Since 2013, the numbers have skyrocketed. The most recent data shows that well over 6,000 people per month are requesting asylum at the border.


Most of the Central American applicants don't easily fit within the traditional protected categories of asylum. They are fleeing criminal gangs and domestic violence, but given the expanded range of people who can qualify for protection, they now have a realistic possibility of receiving asylum.


As the number of migrants from Central America was on the upswing, activists for the DREAM Act began seeking asylum in order to highlight their own plight (the DREAM Act, which has been stalled in Congress, would grant residency to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children and who have lived their lives in the United States, but who currently have no lawful immigration status). The DREAM activists received a lot of attention in the media, and they demonstrated in a public way that asylum seekers could arrive at the Southern border, request protection, and be paroled into the country to pursue their cases.


It seems likely that these two events--changes in the law wrought by litigation and wide-spread publicity about asylum seekers gaining entry into the U.S. at the border--helped lead to the current spike in migration. This is not to say that people coming here for asylum are not also fleeing severe violence in their home countries--they are: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are three of the most dangerous places on Earth. But when you look at data about violent crime in those countries, there is little evidence correlating increased violence with increased migration. In other words, these countries had previously been very violent; something else seems to have spurred the current wave of migration. Quite possibly, that "something else" includes an improved legal climate and publicity about asylum.


Added to all this is the Obama Administration's decision to allow an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S. at a time when fear of terrorism seems to be at an all-time high. This decision was not made in consultation with Congress; the President has the power to make such a decision and he did. A slew of Republicans weighed in against the move.


We now return to Donald Trump.


The idea that "liberal elites" are making decisions to encourage more immigration, and that ordinary Americans (i.e., Trump supporters) have no say in these decisions, fits neatly into Mr. Trump's narrative. This world view is not unrelated to reality. Indeed, as we've seen, recent changes related to asylum and refugee policies likely have brought more immigrants to the United States, and these changes were not reached by consensus, or even by a democratic process. Rather, they were achieved through litigation and civil disobedience, or via executive action--all methods of choice for the "liberal elite."


Should we--the liberal elite--have done things differently? I'm not sure, but I certainly won't apologize for the work of advocates and activists to represent our clients and to expand the law. That is our job and our duty. The President's decision to bring more Syrian refugees here was also the right choice, and--to me at least--represents a fairly tepid response to a massive crisis.


But obviously there is a problem. Many people feel left out of the decision-making process, and that is wrong. Immigration profoundly affects who we are as a country, and Americans--all Americans--have a right to participate in the policy debate on that topic. In taking action to protect our clients and save lives, we "elites" have, to a certain extent, trampled over the democratic process.


Perhaps this is all dust in the wind: People who support xenophobes like Mr. Trump aren't likely to have their minds changed by refugee sob stories or even by evidence that immigration actually helps the country. The sad state of our national discourse has prevented the type of rational policy debate that we need to move towards a broader consensus. Against mounting evidence, the optimist in me still believes that democracy works. I'd like to see a little more of it in our national conversation about immigration.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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Comments

  1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    I see another thing liberal immigration advocates have done. They have demonized people who disagree with them. It is difficult for anyone to disagree with the liberal immigration advocates without being called, "anti-immigrant," "anti-Hispanic," "Racist," "bigot," and so on. I was a counsel for the Democrats on the immigration subcommittee for seven years, and I never called anyone a bigot or a racist or used any other derogatory names; and I never had any difficulty at all coming up with solid, persuasive reasons to disagree with the Republican views. But that was a long time ago. Trump's appeal is that he doesn't care what the liberal immigration advocates call him. He says what he thinks. And he continues to say what he thinks despite what might be the most vicious verbal assault ever committed against someone running for president. His comments are distorted, which is the case in your article too, and in addition to the battery of nasty terms that other Republican politicians have to put up with, he is being compared to Adolph Hitler. You are going to insult him right into the White House if you aren't careful.
  2. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    I don't think we should underestimate Donald Trump, as most of the nation has been doing until it is (almost) too late. Donald Trump has shown himself to be quite capable of evolving into a racist, proto-fascist, violence and torture addicted immigrant-hater all on his own, without any "assistance" from immigration supporters.

    Whatever help Trump may have needed was readily available in the past two or three decades of simmering Republican hostility toward non-white immigrants, leading first to IIRIRA in 1996, later on to Arizona's SB 1070 in 2010, and most recently ignited by the killing of the bipartisan Senate-passed CIR bill by the House in 2013.

    All of these anti-immigrant policies, in addition to many others too numerous to mention here ("self-deportation" and abolishing or restricting birthright citizenship, to mention only two), were avidly supported by the same Republican "Establishment" that is now weeping and wailing, and wringing its hands, over the rise of Donald Trump.

    Blaming immigration advocates for Trump may have the merit of being a creative argument, something that as lawyers and advocates all of us need to engage in at one time or another. But it is also far fetched, to put things mildly.

    With regard to Nolan's contentions that Trump is getting a bad press and a bum rap from liberal immigration advocates, the ugly truth is that calling Mexicans "criminals" and "rapists" is an expression of bigotry, not legitimate discussion of policy. So is proposing to ban every Muslim in the entire world from entering the US on the presumption at every follower of this religion, in every country on this planet where Muslims exist, is a potential "terrorist", and that Muslims, as members of an entire worldwide religious group, are consumed by "hatred" toward America.

    It is also an unpleasant truth that using violence for political purposes and advocating the use of torture, both of which Donald is doing with a vengeance, are more typical of fascist dictatorships than they are of democracies.

    Nolan admires Trump for saying what he thinks. There was another politician who was also widely admired for saying what he thought; that enabled him to seize power, even though little or nothing of what he was thinking had any relation to the truth, just as most of Trump's pronouncements are also based on lies (no matter how many of his supporters want to believe them).

    That politician's name was Adolf Hitler. Whether Nolan likes this comparison or not doesn't stop it from being valid.

    It is true that, unlike Hitler, Trump does not support genocide or extermination of any specific group of people. But Trump's authoritarian pretensions present a clear and present danger of "exterminating", not only America's immigration system as we know it, but also our democracy.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 03-23-2016 at 06:34 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  3. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ImmigrationLawBlogs
    It is true that, unlike Hitler, Trump does not support genocide or extermination of any specific group of people. But Trump's authoritarian pretensions present a clear and present danger of "exterminating", not only America's immigration system as we know it, but also our democracy.
    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Trump is not a danger to our democracy. Roger is the danger, Roger and the other immigration advocates who use demonization and ad hominem attacks to silence people who do not agree with their immigration views. Look at Roger's comment. He does not challenge Trump's immigration views, he just slings accusations at him and the rest of the Republicans. What kind of a democracy respects liberal democratic views?
  4. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Nolan Rappaport
    What kind of a democracy respects liberal democratic views?

    I meant, What kind of a democracy JUST respects liberal democratic views?
  5. JDzubow's Avatar
    I think Roger is correct that Trump is expressing views that are false and bigoted. Labeling all people in a group based on the actions of a few is the very definition of prejudice - to pre-judge. And to say that Trump is the most insulted candidate seems the pot calling the kettle black - Mr. Trump was a leader of the "birther" movement, and the insults against President Obama have, I think, been unprecedented. To claim that Mr. Trump speaks the truth is also demonstrably incorrect - many many of his statements are false or inaccurate. Just because you are nasty and insulting to people who disagree with you does not mean that you are speaking the truth, or that you are brave, or that you are standing up for the little guy, or even that you are "not politically correct." It just means that you are a jerk.

    And to address Roger's point - that immigration advocates bear little or no blame for Trump's rise, I do not think we are the main causal factor for his rise. However, I do think we would do well to examine our own actions and to think about how they affect other people's view of the situation. The support for Mr. Trump does not come from nowhere - many people are disaffected and feeling threatened by immigrants. Not all of this feeling is simply racism. There can be a civilized conversation about immigration and asylum (and I think Roger is an important part of that conversation), and that involves self-examination and listening, as well as advocating for our own points of view.
  6. Lynn A. Bloxham's Avatar
    my only "disagreement" is that Trump is more comparable to Mussolini. Particularly interesting is to compare the writings of Geovanni Gentile (Mussolini's philosopher so to speak) to Trump's ideas. Trump's tactics are all to familiar and have been used by many wanting to use fear to gain power..
  7. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by JDzubow
    I think Roger is correct that Trump is expressing views that are false and bigoted. Labeling all people in a group based on the actions of a few is the very definition of prejudice - to pre-judge. And to say that Trump is the most insulted candidate seems the pot calling the kettle black - Mr. Trump was a leader of the "birther" movement, and the insults against President Obama have, I think, been unprecedented. To claim that Mr. Trump speaks the truth is also demonstrably incorrect - many many of his statements are false or inaccurate. Just because you are nasty and insulting to people who disagree with you does not mean that you are speaking the truth, or that you are brave, or that you are standing up for the little guy, or even that you are "not politically correct." It just means that you are a jerk.

    And to address Roger's point - that immigration advocates bear little or no blame for Trump's rise, I do not think we are the main causal factor for his rise. However, I do think we would do well to examine our own actions and to think about how they affect other people's view of the situation. The support for Mr. Trump does not come from nowhere - many people are disaffected and feeling threatened by immigrants. Not all of this feeling is simply racism. There can be a civilized conversation about immigration and asylum (and I think Roger is an important part of that conversation), and that involves self-examination and listening, as well as advocating for our own points of view.
    First, I want to emphasize that my comments about Trump do not mean that I admire him or that I necessarily agree with anything he has said.

    I agree with what you say in the second paragraph of your comment, but your stated desire for a civilized conversation is contradicted by your comments about Trump in the first paragraph. I don't think Trump is actually "Labeling all people in a group based on the actions of a few." If you are thinking of his comments on Mexicans, he never said that all Mexicans are criminals. I don't think even Ann Coulter has gone that far. Trump, I think, was referring to the relatively small percentage of Mexican who really are criminals and the cartels who are engaged in drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other criminal activities that they are brining to the United States. But maybe not. I haven't heard his clarification of what he meant, don't even know if anyone has asked him for one. As for the birther movement, citizenship by birth regardless of the status of the parents is not the practice in many countries. The United States' birther policies are unusual. You can argue that all countries should handle the issue the way we do, but it is odd to criticize Trump so harshly for a view that is held in most of the world's countries. I won't disagree with your comment that he is jerk, but that doesn't refute any of the positions he has taken on immigration issues.
  8. JDzubow's Avatar
    To clarify, my "birther" comment refers to Trump's insistence that Obama was not born in the US. As for Trump's statements on Mexicans, maybe you need to listen to them again. It is pretty clear that he is referring to Mexicans who come to the US (not all Mexicans), though after he labels them rapists, he does say, "some, I assume, are good people." In my mind, that does not negate the basic stereotype he is espousing.
  9. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by JDzubow
    To clarify, my "birther" comment refers to Trump's insistence that Obama was not born in the US. As for Trump's statements on Mexicans, maybe you need to listen to them again. It is pretty clear that he is referring to Mexicans who come to the US (not all Mexicans), though after he labels them rapists, he does say, "some, I assume, are good people." In my mind, that does not negate the basic stereotype he is espousing.
    Thanks for the clarification, I did misunderstand your "birther" comment. Trump is not the only person who has questioned President Obama's status as a natural born citizen. The issue seems ridiculous to me, but I find it more offensive that people are criticized for pursuing it. The constitutional right to free speech doesn't depend on saying sensible things, and it is diminished when people are shouted down with pejorative ad hominem attacks when they say something that is unpopular. The way you present your clarification of the criticism you made of Trump's comment about Mexicans is the approach that I am advocating. You don't attack Trump as a person or call him any names, not even a jerk. You just explain why you think his comments about Mexicans coming to the US espouse a negative stereotype. That could be the basis for the kind of discussion you are calling for in your article. Name calling never is. For democracy to survive, people have to be free to express offensive political views, and that is particularly true of politicians in a campaign for political office.
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