Trump’s War on Demographic Change

by Daniel Altschuler and Jennifer Epps-Addison

Make the Road New Jersey and allies lead a protest and civil disobedience outside of a private immigration detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey (Feb. 2017)

Millions of Americans have been appalled by Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants. They have been similarly alarmed by his bald-faced lies about so-called “voter fraud.” These may seem like disparate topics, but, when considered against the backdrop of America’s rapidly changing demography, it’s clear the two are intertwined: Trump is delivering an anti-immigrant, voter suppression one-two punch to keep the “browning” of America from reshaping our nation’s politics.

The strategy is simple: cast lies about supposed voter fraud to justify voter suppression, and then use a rogue immigration enforcement apparatus to criminalize and target not only undocumented immigrants, but also lawful permanent residents who Republicans fear will vote for Democrats.

Republicans have long felt threatened by the voting power of communities of color. These fears are only growing stronger as America moves toward becoming a majority-minority nation. By 2044, more than half the country’s population will be non-white, according to the Census. But instead of responding to demographic change by revising their platform, conservatives have resorted to curbing voting rights. Parroting fake reports of “widespread voter fraud,” they have experimented with a broad menu of voting restrictions (such as reducing early voting days and restricting voter registration), which disproportionately impact communities of color. This fear is the impetus behind Republican’s ongoing resistance to the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Their voter suppression efforts have been effective, including a crucial legal victory with the dreadful 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a key section of the VRA.

Various Republicans have admitted their voter suppression efforts’ intent: to help Republicans win elections. Take Mike Turzai, who in 2012, as Republican House Majority Leader in Pennsylvania argued that a draconian state voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Trump embraces this playbook. He regularly lies about millions of ballots cast illegally, and blames undocumented immigrants, with no evidence. This fear-mongering is a pretext to advance federal voter suppression policy, which will find support in a Department of Justice (DoJ) led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch voting rights opponent. Under Sessions, the DoJ will also likely curtail the enforcement of existing federal civil rights legislation, which will bolster Republicans’ state-level voter suppression efforts. As a result, millions of citizens could lose their ability to vote.

Immigration enforcement is the other plank of Trump’s plan to beat back the political impact of America’s changing demographics. Republicans have long feared the impact of naturalizing millions of undocumented immigrants, believing they will vote Democrat. This partly explains Republican leaders’ refusal to pass commonsense immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, despite pressure for reform from the business, agriculture, and technology sectors.

But Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade goes further. In addition to vilifying and attacking the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the administration is also going after lawful permanent residents — i.e., green card holders. Take the raids that swept up nearly 700 people in one week in early February. In New York, where 41 immigrants were taken from their families and detained, the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field officer confirmed to the Staten Island Advance that more than half held green cards.

Under Trump, the lowest level interactions with the criminal justice system (for example, jumping a turnstile or having a small amount of marijuana in your pocket) make immigrants a priority for deportation. This is true for green card holders and undocumented immigrants alike. The ramifications are enormous: as many as 200,000 green card holders have minor criminal convictions that fell outside the scope of President Obama’s immigration enforcement priorities, but that now make them targets for President Trump.

ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), both of whose officers’ unions endorsed Trump, have already signaled their eagerness to aid Trump’s efforts. Both agencies have a long track record of non-transparency and vilifying and attacking immigrants. Under Trump, ICE has already issued false public statements to brand immigrant youth protected by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as gang members to justify their detention. ICE and CBP’s behavior will only get worse.

In short, Trump’s deportation machine will not only tear parents from their children — it will also help him ward off the political implications of demographic change. Trump and Republican leaders know they have no path to win the immigrant vote anytime soon. By targeting green card holders with histories of minor interactions with law enforcement, Trump is adding a tool for keeping likely immigrant voters off the rolls — not just through voter identification laws, but by separating families and kicking them out of the country before they can become citizens.

It’s up to the rest of America to stand up for all of our neighbors, regardless of their immigration status, and resist the efforts to disenfranchise a rapidly browning America.

Daniel Altschuler is the Managing Director of Make the Road Action. Jennifer Epps-Addison is Network President and Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy. Follow them: @MakeTheRoadAct @Popdemoc @Altochulo @jenniferlepps