Editorial: What’s really propelling Trump’s immigration stances


Nearly a century ago, a handful of anarchists engaged in a May Day bombing spree that included mailing “nefarious devices,” as they were called, to unsuspecting political targets in the United States. One conspirator in a later wave accidentally blew himself up trying to leave a bomb on the front steps of the home of Atty. Gen. A. Mitchell Palmer.

Understandably piqued, Palmer launched a campaign of retaliatory raids, sweeping up thousands of foreign-born residents and deporting hundreds of them based, primarily, on their foreign origins and political beliefs. Although anarchists were behind the bombing plots, communists were the primary target of the sweep — the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia just two years earlier with dreams of spreading communism worldwide. And the roundup was followed by a broadly restrictive set of immigration laws and policies.

It’s not a direct parallel to today, but the contours are similar: Adherents of extreme religious/political views are again committing far-flung acts of terror in hopes of spreading their revolution or, at the least, their beliefs. And how has the U.S. reacted? As it did in the 1920s, with a clampdown on the civil liberties of all in pursuit of the few, and with a regressive set of immigration policies.


Fear is the political marketing point, and our P.T. Barnum of a president has cynically melded Islamic extremists and undocumented immigrants into a bogeyman that demands — demands! — that we build walls, real and figurative, against outsiders lest they turn our very streets red with our own blood. And when the bogeyman isn’t taking lives, it’s stealing jobs.

In case his efforts were too subtle, President Trump underscored them by inviting three relatives of slaying victims in crimes for which two immigrants in the country illegally were arrested (one has been convicted) to be among his six guests at Tuesday’s address to Congress. Those were atrocious crimes — two of the victims were California law enforcement officers and a third was a Los Angeles high-school student — and the victims’ families deserve sympathy and support, as do the survivors of the thousands of murders committed across this country each year.

But independent analyses of crime patterns find that immigrants — here legally or illegally — commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. Yes, certain particular crimes would not have been committed had their perpetrators not been in the country, but it is callous, and darkly opportunistic, of the president and his supporters to extrapolate a few specific crimes into an indictment of an entire class of people.

As was reported in our news pages, Trump’s effort to bar travel to the U.S. by residents of seven primarily Muslim countries and to throttle refugee admissions — on hold by the courts as he reconfigures his executive orders — are part of a broader attempt by Trump advisors to reduce immigration overall.

Chief Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon and domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller have long wished to reduce the inflow of foreigners in an effort to preserve what Bannon recently described as “a nation with a culture and a — and a reason for being.” Trump himself said in a campaign speech on foreign policy that “we should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people” and called for “an ideological screening test.”

Their main goal in reducing immigration — or at least one of their main goals — seems to be to keep out people they believe might not assimilate. Yet it is immigrants who have, historically, spurred our economy, contributed to our culture — the very one Bannon professes to want to preserve — and defined us as a society in which ambition can find its rewards.

The argument by Trump and his acolytes that immigration somehow threatens the very essence of America is spurious. The American public would be well-served to look beyond the smokescreen sent up by the flames of fear to see what this administration really has in mind for the future of our country, a place that is both historically and at heart a nation of immigrants.

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