You can take the boy out of Santa Monica, but you can’t, apparently, take Santa Monica out of the boy.
Stephen Miller — President Trump’s speechwriter, policy formulator, and enforcer on all matters pertaining to immigration and the preservation of our shrinking white majority — grew up despising the liberalism of his Westside hometown. While still a student at Santa Monica High, plainly enraged by the racial tolerance to which pupils were daily subjected, he began appearing on right-wing talk radio, and he penned a letter to the local paper complaining that, “Osama bin Laden would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School.”
But even as Miller has rejected the inclusive politics of his hometown, he seems to have embraced its demographics. In his zeal to exclude immigrants from poor, largely non-white nations, and poor immigrants generally, he is attempting to shape a whiter, more affluent America than would otherwise be the case. Ironically, that has meant Miller is seeking, in a sense, to remake America in the demographic image of Santa Monica, where median household income ($86,084, by the latest government figures) exceeds that of the nation as a whole by almost $25,000, and which is more than twice as white (65%) as Los Angeles County as a whole (26%).
Since college, Miller has forged a career shaping the inchoate nativist impulses of the Republicans for whom he’s worked — Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Sen. Jeff Sessions and candidate and President Trump — into occasionally intelligible sentences and always draconian policies. Working for Sessions, he helped doom the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill (which would have enabled the “Dreamers,” longtime U.S. residents who were brought illegally to the United States as children, to become citizens). Working for Trump, he has been a driving force behind parent-child separation at the border and the sacking of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for her insufficient zeal in ruining immigrants’ lives.
Miller’s opposition to immigrants isn’t limited to those in the country illegally. It extends to refugees (we’re now accepting far fewer than we used to), asylum seekers (currently cooped up in Mexico), and legal immigrants who aren’t sufficiently middle class. Last month, Miller helped promulgate what may be his Summa Trumpiana: an 800-page Department of Homeland Security rule that makes obtaining permanent residency more difficult for legal residents who’ve received public assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid. It also says the government can consider the credit histories of applicants in determining whether an immigrant should be allowed to come to or remain in the United States.
Had a demonstration of creditworthiness been required of previous generations of immigrants, of course, the United States would be a very small nation indeed. The 18th century indentured servants who came here from the squalor of London’s alleys, the Irish who fled the great potato famine, the Germans who had to flee the crackdown that followed the failed revolutions of 1848, the Chinese for whom barely compensated work building the railroads was an economic step up, the Jews escaping the czar’s pogroms, the Italians abandoning the hard-scrabble penury of Calabria and Sicily, the Vietnamese boat people — how many of them arrived with letters from their hometown bankers attesting to their spotless credit ratings? The Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans now penned up on our borders are in the finest tradition of American immigrant history: Having fled violent, impoverished countries, they’ve arrived on our doorsteps wholly desperate, largely destitute and eager to work hard to improve their lot.
Miller and the Trumpistas insist that America is full up, while in fact, America is facing a growing labor shortage in the very occupations that working-class immigrants populate. A recent Washington Post article zeroed in on Maine — the state with both the highest percentage of senior citizens and the lowest rate of foreign-born residents.
In this immigrant-free zone, there’s an acute and growing shortage of home care and nursing home workers. In 2017, Maine became the first state with more than a fifth of its population over the age of 65; by 2030, more than half the states will have crossed that threshold. Should America be as devoid of immigrants as Maine is now — and as Trump and Miller would have it become — it’s not at all apparent who’ll be around to care for grandpa. Nor that there will be enough young workers to adequately fund the Social Security payments all those aging boomers will have earned.
Miller and Trump have now succeeded in their push to screen potential immigrants for economic status and race — but as Santa Monica demonstrates, this is still insufficient to turn America Trumpward. Clearly their next push needs to be on screening for ideology — requiring prospective immigrants to watch three straight months of “Fox and Friends,” say, or to read the speeches of Bachmann, Sessions and Trump that Miller has penned. That would ensure that immigrants have been properly Millerized — or that they’ll scurry back, screaming, from whence they came.
Harold Meyerson is executive editor of the American Prospect and a contributing writer to Opinion.