In a presidency marked by political controversies, immigration — particularly the iconic border wall — stands out as probably the biggest source of acrimony. The Trump administration has taken a consistently firm line on immigration, and this has put it at loggerheads with most of the Democratic Party and even some Republicans and Libertarians.
The US has a complex relationship with immigration. More than most, this is a nation of immigrants, so there’s a long history of welcoming newcomers. However, over the last century, there’s been growing tension between legal and illegal immigration. Few are opposed to people coming here to live legally, but there’s now a sharp left/right divide on the subject of those who break the law to come.
Many economists argue that illegal immigration is actually a benefit to the US economy and that it makes sense to regularize the status of those who are already here. Others say that there are legal routes to settle in the US, so those who come illegally are showing a fundamental lack of respect for our laws.
Many Democrats are so opposed to immigration enforcement that, in jurisdictions, they control, “sanctuary” laws have been introduced. The aim behind these is to prevent anyone from being deported just for being in the country illegally, although there have been some high-profile cases of serious crimes being committed by people who had no right to be in the country. Several of the offenders had been protected from deportation by the “sanctuary” laws which have been enacted by many liberal jurisdictions; these cases have often been highlighted by conservatives who oppose sanctuary laws.
No Small Concerns
Illegal immigration isn’t a small issue. The current estimate is that there were about 10.7 million people in the US illegally as of 2016, with just over half of them being Mexican citizens. That’s down from a peak of about 12.2 million in 2007, but it’s still 3.3% of the total population. Around two-thirds of adult illegal immigrants have been in the US for at least 10 years.
President Trump has made relatively small changes to legal immigration, mostly in the form of what he says are restrictions on countries strongly linked to terrorism, and opponents say is a ban on Muslim migrants (although most Muslim-majority countries were unaffected). However, he’s taken a very hard line on illegal ones. Measures include increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and an ongoing attempt to penalize jurisdictions that enact sanctuary laws. The centerpiece, though, is the infamous wall.
One of President Trump’s pre-election promises was to secure our border with Mexico, by far the busiest route for illegal immigration, by building a wall to parallel it. This promise was widely ridiculed, but when it became clear Trump actually intended to build it, his opponents stopped laughing and started pulling every lever they could to block construction.
These efforts, and the president’s equally determined attempts to overcome them, have been a constant theme throughout this presidency. Parts of the wall have already been built; the rest may still be. If built, it will be less a barrier than a symbol of America’s deeply conflicted attitude about immigration.
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