Democrats should criticize Trump for his attack on LEGAL immigration

Photo by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash

The hand-wringing has begun. Several columnists are already bemoaning the Democrats’ ideological positioning, while others argue that the candidates are doing Trump’s work by attacking each other.

By Vince Reinhart —, CC BY-SA 2.0,

There is evidence to counter this warning, but what is really striking is how the Democrats are repeatedly warned not to become too radical while the Republican party has become the equivalent of the far-right nationalists in Europe. And Democrats are the radicals?

So much of politics depends upon what you emphasize. Just recently, Tim Chapman of the Heritage Foundation argued that Republicans need to change their message. He pointed to polling that shows that the Republicans are making the weakest argument for their immigration policy. Instead, he suggested they should emphasize the potential for immigrants to need social services rather than the argument that they take jobs or commit crimes. In making that point, Chapman was not suggesting the Republicans change their policy, just how they present it to the public.

Democrats have a similar problem on immigration. By huge margins, Americans are outraged over Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families. When they emphasize this point, they win the immigration argument.

On the other hand, when we emphasize a policy of eliminating ICE, or decriminalizing illegal immigration, we lose folks. One poll found that nearly 80% of Americans oppose “open borders.”

The lesson? Americans support immigration generally, but want it to be limited, and want those limits enforced. What really outrages them is the idea that illegal immigrants could obtain social benefits.

So how do Democrats make the case against Trump’s cruel immigration policy without turning off most Americans? Talking about the continuing and illegal family separation policy is a start. But that story seems to have run its course, failing to generate the kind of outrage it did when it first came to light.

One policy Democrats have completely ignored, however, is Trump’s policy of reducing LEGAL immigration.

Several sources have reported on the administration’s efforts to reduce legal immigration including:

These are just a few examples.

When I hear more rational people talk about their opposition to immigration, they emphasize the fact that their relatives had to go through a long and burdensome process to legally enter this country. The idea that we might reward people who violate the law is abhorrent to them.

Similarly, they are quick to say that if people follow the law, they should be allowed to immigrate. That only applies, however, if the administration is also following the law, or is not making the law harder to comply with. Trump’s administration is engaging in both approaches.

Obviously, there are many people who are just opposed to immigration at all. This racist, self-destructive policy is just bad for our country, but there are people who support it nonetheless. Those people, however, are core Trump supporters and will never support his Democratic opponent.

On the other hand, many swing voters understand the value immigration brings to our country. They just want to see the law complied with. If for these people, Democrats emphasize the fact that Trump is attacking legal immigrants as well as illegal ones, those swing voters might be less amenable to Trump’s arguments.

In such circumstances it’s worth remembering that we don’t need to win all Trump’s supporters. With the last election decided by less than 80,000 votes in three states, all we need to do is bring a few people over to our side and Trump will be defeated.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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