Season 2: Current Events

Current Events Ep. 4: Immigration or, “Good fences make tense neighbors”

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Early in the morning on September 16, 1810, a priest was warned that he would soon be arrested by Spanish officials. His brother and a band of followers took immediate action. They went to the local jail and freed dozens of prisoners, behind bars because, like the priest, they had also been planning to fight the Spanish.

That morning, the priest rang the bell of the local church, gathered his followers and addressed them from his pulpit. He called upon them to overthrow the Spanish empire, using a derogatory term for the Spanish peninsulares: “Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe, death to bad government, death to the gachupines!”

This speech, the “Grito de Dolores” named after the small town of Dolores in the state of Guanajuato where the priest was from, instigated the Mexican War for Independence. And although he was arrested and executed less than one year after his speech, and the fighting would continue for another 10 years, Father Miguel de Hidalgo is remembered as the father of Mexico.

In just a few days, the president of Mexico will reenact the “Grito” from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City: “Viva México! Viva la Independencia! Vivan los héroes!”

Why am I talking about Father Hidalgo? Well for one, it’s part of my lifelong crusade to teach my fellow Americans that Mexican independence day is not on Cinco de Mayo. Put down the margarita. But Mexico is also at the center of what I want to talk about today, and it’s important to understand how heavily our neighbor to the south has been influenced by the United States since even before its creation.

It’s no coincidence that the “Grito” came just a few decades after our own Declaration of Independence. In fact, the true orchestrater of the independence movement was not Hidalgo, but a man known as José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. At the time, he was in Washington D.C. asking the young American government for support against the Spanish – the first Mexican ever to meet with the U.S. government.

After independence, Mexico’s fortunes would constantly be tied to the United States. The relationship between the two countries would fluctuate regularly between alliance and warfare.

For example, the Mexican-American War of 1848 resulted in the U.S. gaining 500,000 square miles of formerly Mexican territory. Hello California! But this was soon followed by a decades long dictatorship nicknamed the Porfiriato. President Porfirio Diaz established a close diplomatic and economic relationship with the United States, hoping for an infusion of cash from the newly industrialized U.S.

The people of Mexico eventually rebelled against the Porfiriato, setting up a relatively legit democracy. Mexican leaders swing back and forth between close ties with the U.S. and attempts to establish themselves as a fully self-sustaining government that doesn’t take orders from Washington D.C. The rocky relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is further complicated by the constant exchange that occurs between the two countries. With a shared border that is 2,000 miles long that’s no surprise.

Today I want to talk about immigration. What has been our attitude toward immigrants in the past? Why are so many people crossing the Mexican border? And what exactly is happening at the border right now under the current administration? Some of those questions are easier to answer than others, but I’ll do my best.

This is Anti-Social Studies; I’m Emily Glankler; settle in and let’s get some historical context.

Act 1: A Nation of Immigrants

One constant in the history of the United States, a nation of immigrants, has been fear of immigrants. I know. It doesn’t make any sense.

The official term for this is nativism – the desire to protect and promote the interests of native-born people against newcomers, especially those who are from different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups than the majority of people currently living in the country. Meanwhile, Native Americans are looking around going, “Yeah, no kidding. Maybe we should have built a wall in 1491.”

Ever since the arrival of the first immigrants on the Mayflower, nativism has been a strange continuity in our history. I’m not at all trying to normalize this fear of immigrants. What’s happening in our country today is not normal. But, it’s important to understand that there is a long tradition of blaming issues on newcomers and thinking that preventing them from coming will solve our nation’s problems.

In 1775, before the United States even existed, Benjamin Franklin railed against the influx of German immigrants to the colonies. He warned that they were going to “Germanize” the country and would “never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion.” Oof. Any time you mention someone’s “complexion” in the context of immigration, you know that isn’t going to end well. Also, what are you talking about Franklin? Germans brought us kindergartens, Christmas trees, hot dogs and hamburgers. If those are “wrong” customs then I don’t want to be right.

In the mid-1800s, famine in Ireland and political revolution in Germany led to a wave of immigrants from these “less desirable” places. At this point in American history the only “proper” immigrants were basically WASPs – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. A political party developed that was anti-Catholic and, thus, anti-immigrant. They hilariously named themselves the Native American Party. Again, Native Americans are like, “Seriously?!” This reflects the ideology of nativism – or discriminating against people and groups that are not “native” to your country. In the case of American nativists, that means people whose families didn’t come over on the Mayflower, or those who have a similar “complexion.” The Native American Party eventually broke apart over the issue of slavery – sort of ironic that they were all in agreement about the Irish but disagreed about African Americans, it seems like they would have been on the same page about that one. But for a while the party was really powerful, holding 6 governorships and gaining control of multiple state legislatures before the Civil War.

But the real nativist stuff hit the fan in the 1880’s when Chinese immigrants started coming to the west coast. Remember from season 1: China was struggling. They had been forced open by the British who got them addicted to opium. The Taiping Rebellion had just occurred, the bloodiest civil war in all of human history, and the country was divided over support for the emperor and a desire to overthrow their mandate. As Chinese laborers came to the United States, many Americans freaked out.

The optimistic explanation of why they freaked out was that the U.S. was going through an economic downturn in the 1880’s so they were just unhappy about the influx of any immigrant who might take a job away from them. But, let’s be real. There was a clear racial element to this as well. Many saw the Chinese as an inferior race that sat around and smoked opium all day – first, that’s wrong. But second, the few Chinese who did sit around and smoke opium all day got it from the British! We learned it from watching you!

After having them build half of the Transcontinental Railroad – the Irish built the other half – Congress passed some of its first legislation aimed at preventing specific groups from entering the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was well-named because, well, it excluded all immigrants from China. And, current people of Chinese descent already living in the U.S. were not allowed to gain citizenship. This law was on the books for 60 years – it wasn’t repealed until 1943. I guess once you fight against Japan in WWII, we’ll let you enter our country.

In the same year as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act was passed in 1882. It imposed the first tax on non-citizens coming into the country and restricted immigration by criminals, the insane, or “any person unable to take care of him or herself.” This was intentionally vague and it gave the government newfound power to decide on its own who was “suitable” for entry into the U.S.

Near the end of the 19th century, a wave of so-called “New Immigrants” began coming to the U.S. Up until this point, the vast majority of immigrants – nicknamed “Old Immigrants” – were from northern or western Europe. Lighter skinned, more likely to be Protestant and already know English. But by the late 1800s, New Immigrants came from central, eastern and southern Europe.

Notably, Italians immigrated to east coast cities and Jews fled persecution in eastern Europe and Russia. Remember from Season 1 – many Jews fled to the U.S., but others moved into countries like Poland, Austria, and Germany, contributing to a rising anti-Semitism and fear of foreigners that would allow the Nazi Party to gain power a few decades later.

Side note: a few years ago, I researched some of my family history and found out that my great grandfather was part of this group of immigrants. My dad had always remembered his grandfather as a very mysterious figure with an accent that was hard to pinpoint. What we found out about this guy was crazy and could fill a whole episode, but basically, he emigrated from eastern Europe when he was little because his family was Jewish. They arrived in New York City at the turn of the century and he eventually married a woman, went off to fight in World War I and never returned – to his wife at least. He came back and ended up in Texas under a new name. He married again, moved away to work on an oil field, fell in love and so, naturally, he faked his own death so that he could marry my great grandmother. Seriously. I hope that someone from is listening to this and sponsors my podcast. Try today – you too might discover that your ancestor was a scoundrel!

Back to history, these “New Immigrants” were heavily persecuted. The Ku Klux Klan, riding high in the south in the era of Jim Crow, also gained popularity with people who were anti-Semitic or just generally anti-immigrant. In the 1930’s, the phrase “America First” rose as a popular rallying cry for groups wanting to turn inward and not get involved in the rising problems in Europe, but for some it also carried a nativist message.

Industrialist Henry Ford was a supporter of the American First movement as he warned about “the Jewish plan to control the world.” Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh became a spokesperson for the America First Coalition that lobbied the government to stay out of World War II. Lindbergh gave a speech where he explained that he wasn’t unsympathetic to what was happening to Jews in Europe, but that they should defend themselves instead of asking the U.S. to do it for them. Cool, thanks for nothing Charles, said the Jews being deported to concentration camps.

In the lead-up to the war, over 100,000 Jewish immigrants did arrive in the U.S., escaping persecution. But that was just because of the existing immigration framework that had quotas of how many people from a specific country could immigrate each year. Many of the European nations – like Germany and Austria – had relatively high quotas since those countries were considered more “desirable” sources of new immigrants. Unfortunately, during FDR’s presidency, the quotas were only filled one year. That means that there were spots for even more immigrants to lawfully enter the U.S., escaping the rise of the Third Reich, and it would have required absolutely no change to the existing laws. But the US government didn’t let them in.

Why not? There are a lot of arguments that can be made for the simple fact that anti-Semitism was way more widespread across the U.S. and Europe than we now like to admit. But, there were also economic concerns – a little thing called the Great Depression. Not only were immigrants being limited from entering, many who were already here were being forcibly sent back to their country of origin. More on that in a second.

The point of all of this is simple. In times of crisis – especially economic downturns when everyone is a perceived threat to your ability to get or keep a job – it is easy to turn inward and blame outsiders for your issues. And no one has shouldered that blame more than people from Mexico.

Act 2: Mexican Immigration

Although immigrants have come to the United States from all around the world, overwhelmingly the largest number have come from Mexico. One in every four immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico. So, clearly, whenever the national debate turns to the topic of immigration, the southern border comes into focus.

It’s important to acknowledge that not all people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. are – or were ever – immigrants. Remember a little event called the Mexican-American War? Up until 1848, about ⅓ of the land that is now part of the U.S. was part of Mexico and was populated by Mexican people. This includes the current states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. When the war ended, and we forced Mexico to “cede” us that land (as if they had a choice), the people living there came with it.

In fact, Mexican people living on that land had to deal with massive immigration from white Americans settling their land as they moved westward in the second half of the 1800s. Even though their property rights were, on paper, protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo; in practice, Mexican-Americans’ land was often taken by white settlers coming from the east. Often courts required petitioners to present all documentation of land ownership in English. Since the Mexican-Americans got their property titles from the Mexican government or, even, the Spanish Empire, they didn’t qualify.

Knowing that they would be supported by the courts, many white settlers squatted on the land until courts gave them the property rights, at which point they sold the land to speculators and investors back east. A lot of the land in the west was originally communal land – crucial to the Mexican-Americans for grazing. But as white Americans came in, they often fenced off this land and sold it to the highest bidder. These practices were validated by the government when they passed the Homestead Act. In 1862, this act gave 270 million acres of land away to settler for free if they agreed to settle and work the land for at least 5 years.

Some groups resisted. One, nicknamed Las Gorras Blancas (or the White Caps), raided towns in New Mexico in protest of these Anglo-American squatters. They unsuccessfully used violence and intimidation to try to scare off new settlers, burning down barns and tearing down fences. In some places, especially New Mexico where there was still a sizable Mexican-American population, they were able to gain some influence in the government.

However, for the most part, they slowly became outnumbered and were pushed down the social ladder. This was worsened by the fact that gold was discovered in California in 1849, just one year after the end of the Mexican-American War. Ouch. That must have been infuriating to be the Mexican government and realize that you had been sitting on a literal goldmine all this time only to give it away to the U.S.

Since the 1800s, immigration from Mexico has been constant and relatively unmonitored. Since, especially in the West, there were many people of Mexican descent who had always lived there, new family members crossed the new border to join them. The border patrol wasn’t even founded until 1924 and, for the most part, it’s job was to prevent the entry of banned groups, like the Chinese. Mexicans were typically seen as beneficial to the economy, especially working as seasonal farmworkers.

Then the Great Depression hit. When the economy collapsed and the Dust Bowl ravaged farming communities, Americans were desperate for any type of work. In just 7 years, from 1929 to 1936, over 2 million Mexican-Americans were deported and sent back to Mexico. Although, I shouldn’t say “back” to Mexico because an estimated 60% of these people were birthright citizens of the U.S. The government forcibly removed American citizens because of the color of their skin. It was bad.

But then, proving that Americans are a fickle friend, our attitude about Mexican immigrants shifted with the outbreak of World War Two. Needing people to do manual labor while the men were off fighting in Europe and the Pacific, the US made an agreement with Mexico that came to be known as the Bracero program.

A bracero is a manual worker, or someone who works with their “brazos” (arms). Between 1942 and 1962, over 4 million Mexicans were admitted legally to work in the U.S. These workers were often mistreated and were promised savings taken out of their paychecks that they never received. Some ex-braceros continue to petition the government for lost earnings and it’s estimated that, as a group, they are owed $500 million. So there’s that.

The point is that throughout our history, the southern border has been relatively open. For most of U.S. history, immigration from Mexico has been categorized as a “loop.” What this means it that it was rare for people from Mexico to cross the border to stay in the U.S. permanently. The border was seen as fluid or porous in both directions – people crossed it to work seasonally or for a few years, and then they returned to their homes and families in Mexico. So for most of our history up until the middle of the 20th century, the total number of Mexican immigrants stayed relatively flat because people were always coming and going.

But all of this changed in the 1970’s with a well-meaning military man who was a little too good at his job. Full disclosure: I got this information from a podcast that is far better than mine called “Revisionist History” by Malcolm Gladwell. You should really just listen to his episode called, “General Chapman’s Last Stand.”

But, essentially, General Chapman was a Marine who had been in charge of securing the border between the north and the south during the Vietnam War. It was a really important job. When he came home, he chose to take charge of INS, or Immigration and Naturalization Service to help shore up our own border. This was basically Customs and ICE before those existed.

INS was originally a relatively small part of the government that had not been too proactive seeking out people crossing the border illegally, as long as they weren’t violating the law in any other way. This was mostly out of a lack of organization and funding – all of which changed when General Chapman took control. He built up the INS to be a formidable force and apprehensions at the border skyrocketed after he took control in 1972.

What this, in effect, did was close the “loop” that many Mexicans had been doing for years. Now, crossing the border became a dangerous and high risk endeavor. So, once you went across, you stayed because you couldn’t be confident that you would ever be able to get back again. Instead of going home, once you got settled in, you brought your family over to you and you stayed on the U.S. side of the border permanently.

This is why we started to see a huge spike in the number of immigrants who had come across the border in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Gladwell argues that it was the attempt to solve the problem – by cracking down on immigration – that actually caused the problem they were trying to solve – closing the loop and incentivizing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and put down roots, thus increasing the overall number of illegal immigrants in the country. Ah, irony, my old friend. But there were also other factors that have led to an increase in the net number of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Act 3: Mexico, Recently

So what has been going on in Mexico over the last few decades? In short, a lot. But there have been a few trends since the 1980s that have directly impacted the U.S.-Mexico relationship and, especially, the spike in immigration across the border.

First, the Mexican economy for decades after World War II was crushing it. Economists nicknamed it the “Mexican Miracle.” But, since a lot of their economy was based on oil and trade with the U.S., when oil prices dropped and stagflation hit the U.S. economy in the 1970s, it rippled out to economies around the world, especially in Latin America. By the 1980s, Mexico was in full economic crisis. This is sometimes referred to as the “Lost Decade” as economies across Latin America had to default on international loans that they had taken out when the economy – and oil prices – were booming.

Why does this matter for us? Well, poverty is the main driving force behind two main issues in modern Mexico: drugs and immigration. As the economy weakens, people either leave to find better jobs or they stay and link up with organizations that can provide stability and wealth – and those organizations often are not the government.

By the 1990s, the powerful Colombian cartels had fallen. The U.S. had done such a good job eradicating the Cali and Medellin cartels but drugs weren’t going away anytime soon. So all that it did was incentivize other groups to step in and pick up such a lucrative opportunity. Mexico was in a prime position to take over the cartel business because they had already been the middlemen between Colombian cocaine and American buyers. And they were successful. By 2007, Mexican cartels controlled 90% of the cocaine entering the United States (even though 90% of that cocaine was still grown in Colombia). Talk about a market takeover.

NAFTA, passed in 1994, didn’t help matters. When North America opened its borders to the free flow of goods and money, Mexican markets were often flooded with cheaper American crops. Many farmers were driven out of the legal business of growing things and into the illegal business of growing things, namely marijuana.

Also, as money and goods flowed freely across the border, NAFTA did not make arrangements for the free flow of people to follow the jobs and the money. Illegal immigration continued to rise as more farm families, often not wanting to grow drugs for the cartels but not able to find honest work, sent their sons or husbands across the border to send their American paychecks back home. These are called remittances (money sent across the border to support families) and they have grown to $26 billion in 2017. Remittances from the United States are a larger part of Mexico’s GDP than oil revenue.

Throughout the 90s, drug cartels grew in power as the Mexican economy tried to rebuild itself in the new NAFTA-era. The cartels had always been bad and violence but, in the past, the Mexican government essentially looked the other way. Sometimes this was done on purpose as the cartels bribed political officials, but often it was just because the government lacked the time and resources to address the growing drug issue. But, in 2006, with the support of President George W. Bush, conservative Mexican president Felipe Calderon officially declared war on the drug cartels just eight days into his presidency.

By the end of Calderon’s 6-year administration, over 60,000 people had died as a result of the drug war and that number has more than doubled since 2012. The Drug War is still ongoing and has been another catalyst for immigration across the border, especially as violence has spread to surrounding countries in Central America. A lot of the migrants we’re seeing today, especially families and children, are fleeing drug-related violence across Central America. Of the 50 most violent cities in the world, 12 are in Mexico, 2 in Honduras and one each in El Salvador and Guatemala.

The Drug War is important context for understanding the issue of immigration today for two main reasons. First, it is the reason a lot of people are crossing the border – especially those seeking asylum. According to US Immigration Law, based on the United Nations Human Rights Convention, an asylum seeker is someone “who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” According to this law, anyone seeking asylum will be giving protected status by the US government for one year and then they are allowed to apply for lawful permanent residence, or a green card.

Quick note on asylum seekers: one of the ways that the government is currently justifying sending away asylum seekers coming from Central America is that they claim they do not fit the definition. Drug violence does not necessarily fit the legal definition of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.” So, as people cross the border and ask for asylum, they are often instead treated as illegal immigrants.

The other reason that the Drug War is important for understanding immigration today is that it has contributed heavily to the negative stereotype Americans have about immigrants, especially those coming across the Rio Grande. Negative stereotypes have always existed. For example, almost a century ago when prohibitionists were working to get rid of alcohol and drugs from society, they made a conscious decision to call the drug “marijuana” instead of the more scientific “cannabis.” This was the Spanish word for the drug and it evoked a strong negative reaction, similar to the Chinese opium dens in California or the stereotypes about hard-drinking Irishmen in the northeast.

One group you’ve probably heard about in the news is MS-13. This is a criminal gang organization that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Most of their members are originally from Central America and their influence spread from California to other parts of the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. They were known for their brutality, making them a popular tool of drug cartels looking for enforcers and soldiers, especially for the Sinaloa Cartel.

So even though negative stereotypes have always existed, the rise of the gangs like MS-13 and Mexican cartels and drug-related violence, has made it easy for politicians seeking a stronger stance on immigration to play on this fear. Then-candidate Trump famously said, ““When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.” In case you weren’t sure where I stood on this issue, allow me to throw a few facts at this statement that have been gathered and generally accepted by multiple peer-reviewed studies and decades of research. No “alternative facts” here:

  • Less than two percent of male immigrants in the U.S. between ages 18 and 39 have served jail time, as opposed to over three percent of native-born American men in the same age range. (Cato Institute)
  • The influx of immigrants during the 1990s and early 2000s actually preceded a decline of crime in most cities (over 100 cities surveyed). (New York Times)
  • Also, this idea that Mexicans are flooding across the border in larger and larger numbers is wrong.
  • Mexican immigration hit its apex in 2005, and has been decreasing ever since. In 2015, the U.S. experienced an outflow of 140,000 Mexican immigrants as more left the country than entered. (Brooks)

OK, so facts are important.

Most recently, the Trump Administration has come under fire for it’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border that has resulted in thousands of children being separate from their parents after illegally crossing into the United States. There is still a ton of confusion and misinformation flying around about this issue, but I’m going to do my best to provide a little bit of historical context to understand the roots of policies like this.

The policy has its origins in the George W. Bush era with Operation Streamline, a joint initiative of the new Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Started in 2005, this established a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossing by criminally prosecuting everyone detained at the border. There were mass trials with dozens of illegal immigrants tried at the same time. In just one sector in Texas, criminal prosecutions for illegal border crossing jumped from around 4,000 a year to 16,000 in 2005. The program continued to expand and, during Obama’s first term, total prosecutions tripled to 44,000 in 2010. So yes, Trump is correct when he says that this policy is not new to his administration. But throughout the Bush and Obama eras, exceptions were typically made for people traveling with minors.

During Obama’s presidency, he changed his administration’s focus to “zero tolerance” and deportation of immigrants who had committed crimes in the U.S. (obviously not including the crime of illegally entering the country in the first place). Essentially, the Justice Department and immigration enforcement was directed under Obama to not prioritize illegal immigrants who hadn’t committed any other crimes. Parents, especially, were prioritized for quick release from detention centers.

Were children separated from their parents during the Obama administration? As far as I can tell – and I really did a lot of research to find evidence of this – only in extreme cases. For the most part, families were detained together or parents were released but were given ankle monitors or expected to check in with immigration officials as they awaited trial. This was part of the Family Case Management Program that gave special priority to asylum seekers who were “families with certain vulnerabilities, including pregnant or nursing family member; those with very young children; family members with medical/mental health concerns; families who speak only indigenous languages; and other special needs.” Keep in mind it can often take years to process asylum claims.

Illegal immigrant children’s rights were addressed in 2016, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Flores v. Lynch[28][29] that detained immigrant children should be released as quickly as possible, although parents were not required to be freed. The Obama administration complied by maintaining a policy in which parents and children were typically released after being detained together for 21 days

When Trump was campaigning he nicknamed the Obama policy “catch and release.” It was one of his main campaign promises to end this policy and take a tougher stance on immigration. Today, the general policy is to reject asylum seekers from Central America and Mexico either directly, by deporting them, or indirectly. There are reports of immigration offices essentially giving asylum seekers the “run around” – “We’ve reached our quota for the day”, “You have to already have a visa”, or “You have to file with the Mexican government first.” Good old bureaucratic red tape.

As far as the separation of families at the border, we’re still gathering information. But we do know a few things based on reporting that has been done using provided by DHS. Just to be clear, this information I’m about to give was provided by Trump’s administration – the Department of Homeland Security. From July to October 2017, the Trump administration ran what the DHS called a “pilot program” for zero tolerance in El Paso. Families were separated, including families that were seeking asylum, and children were then reclassified as “unaccompanied” and sent into a network of shelters with no system created to reunite them with their parents.

According to this report, the idea of separating immigrant children from their parents as way to deter immigrants was reviewed by the Trump administration just two weeks into his presidency. A review of government data found that, as a result of this “pilot program,” about 700 migrant children, more than 100 of them under the age of 4, had been taken from their parents since October 2017. At that time Department of Homeland Security officials said they did not split families to deter immigration but rather to “protect the best interests of minor children crossing our borders.” Saying it would save $12 million a year, in June the Trump administration ended Obama’s Family Case Management Program, which kept asylum-seeking mothers and their children out of detention.

After viewing these initial programs as a success, in April of 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors “to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy for all offenses” related to the misdemeanor of improper entry into the United States, and that this “zero-tolerance policy shall supersede any existing policies”. The idea was that first-time offenders who, in the past, had faced removal (but not criminal conviction), these first-time offenders would now be imprisoned, tried, and convicted. This has extended to families seeking asylum, who have typically been kept together and allowed to remain in the country as they go through the process of applying for asylum.

The impact of this policy has been massive. Once the public found out about the impact of the Zero Tolerance policy on refugee families, many were outraged. Polls show that only 25% of Americans agree with the policy, although a majority of Republicans do support it in some form. The Office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights called on the administration to “immediately halt” the policy of separating children from their parents. In June of 2018, Trump signed an executive order reversing the practice of separating families; although “zero tolerance” remains the policy at the border (families are now just supposed to be detained together.)

To date, there are still supposedly hundreds of children who haven’t been reunited with their parents. Agencies seem to be passing the blame around and it would appear that there were very few records kept of who was separated and where they were taken. Hotlines set up for parents or their attorneys to find their children are often an obstacle course of red tape. And some of the parents have already been deported. In short, it’s a mess.


Let’s bring this home and tie it all together. Throughout US history, nativism rises as an easy unifying ideology, especially amongst people who are poor, less educated, and vying for jobs that could also be filled by immigrants relatively easily. Nativism also tends to be more popular with older citizens who are less open-minded about cultural change. This is Trump’s base.

If you look at the statistics of who voted for Trump in 2016 and created an individual who would make up the “typical” Trump voter, they would be a white male over 40 with less than a college degree who lives in a small town or rural area. And this is also the exact population that is the most susceptible to nativism.

It makes perfect sense that Trump’s campaign slogan would be “America First.” It makes perfect sense that he would want to build a wall and crack down on immigration. It makes perfect sense that he would capitalize on this fear and call immigrants from Mexico “criminals” and “rapists.” “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” and, right now, “Build a wall” rhymes with not filling quotas in the 1930s, “criminals and rapists” rhymes with “opium addicts” and “America First” rhymes with “America First.”