Trumpism and its Discontents

Immigration Policy, Presidential Action, and the Politics of Debasement

The following is a chapter from Trumpism and its Discontents. Click to download a PDF of the book here.

By Irene Bloemraad 

Cover of the trumpism bookUS politics toward immigration have been a contest between welcome and exclusion since colonial times. Then and now, significant numbers of voters, joined by various interest groups, have pushed political decision-makers to restrict or eliminate immigration, or to let only certain types of migrants settle in the United States. Other voters and interest groups instead marshal arguments about promoting economic growth, upholding family unity, and living up to humanitarian obligations to advocate for more expansive and generous immigration policies, ones that increase and diversify the number of newcomers as well as provide immigrants with a decent life once they are in the country. The immigration tug-of-war has often divided political parties. Restrictionist labor unions have at times joined with socially conservative politicians to curtail immigration or block amnesty for migrants without legal status. Conversely, pro-immigrant business groups have formed alliances with progressive, cosmopolitan politicians to open up immigration policy. The institutional system of the United States further shapes the politics of migration, notably through its division of powers, judicial review, and federal structure. The immigration tug-of-war has thus pitted state, county, and local governments against the federal government, and it has divided the branches of government as Congress disagrees with the president, and courts step in to overturn decisions made by the federal executive branch or by state legislatures.

Significantly, during many of the past battles over immigration policy, the president has repeatedly held a more pro-immigrant position than the general public or the majority in Congress has, even when an individual president was sympathetic to nativist or exclusionary views. Presidents from both major parties have vetoed restrictionist policies passed by Congress. They have taken executive actions to facilitate special entry pathways for certain types of migrants such as temporary workers or exiles fleeing regimes that the United States opposes. Other presidents have used executive authority to shield people from possible deportation or to provide them with temporary protected status. 

Why have presidents at times bucked public opinion or congressional  (in)action to advance more expansionist immigration policies than voters or Congress support? This chapter highlights two reasons. The first is the perceived importance within the White House of “higher-order” foreign policy considerations that trump populist sentiments. A second reason is the presidential belief that the president upholds a higher moral order. Before World War II, this moral vision was often articulated in metaphors concerning the Statue of Liberty: the United States as a beacon of democracy, freedom, and refuge. After World War II, the moral vision embraced the ideal of the United States as the leader of the “free world,” a nation that upholds human rights and freedom and advances American values in the world. The United States has regularly fallen short of its ideals, both abroad and at home, but the presidency has long brought together both an orientation to hard-nosed foreign policy calculations—sometimes against domestic pressures—and aspirations to lofty values.

This chapter argues that on both grounds, Donald Trump and his administration have made a radical break with previous presidential history. The reasons for this break lie both in the peculiarities of Trump and his administration and in broader trends that go beyond Trump. In terms of foreign policy, “Trumpism” is characterized by protectionism, admiration for authoritarian regimes, and a go-it-alone mentality that rejects international cooperation. This Trumpism is set in a broader shift in the ways in which the United States approaches foreign relations in a post–Cold War world that fears terrorism, especially by Islamic radicals, and no longer seeks multilateral partnerships to oppose Communism. In terms of humanitarian norms, Trump shows no evidence of seeing democracy, freedom, and human rights as  important, and he has repeatedly expressed views sympathetic to a white supremacist view of the world. At the same time, these Trumpian views are part and parcel of a broader trend toward populism and nativism across many Western nations. Absent higher-order concerns about foreign policy or the moral ideal of advancing human rights as American values, the Trump White House and the person holding the highest elected office in the country have adopted a politics of debasement that echo some of the worst racist and xenophobic impulses of past US immigration politics. Open, Obstructed, and Winding Pathways: Legislating Migrants’ Entry  and Citizenship in the United States The history of US immigration policy is one of contestation over whether to provide open, obstructed, or winding pathways to enter the United States and secure membership through citizenship. This chapter starts by sketching the broad historical strokes before delving into presidential action.

It is worth remembering that in its first century of existence, the United States offered immigrants a relatively open pathway into the country: notions of illegality or visa status were not inscribed in US law or policy. Indeed, promotion of immigration was a rallying cry of revolutionaries seeking American independence. History textbooks may spotlight white revolutionaries’ demand for control over taxation as a prime motivation, illustrated with images of the Boston Tea Party. But as the Declaration of Independence put it, the King of Great Britain “has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States,”1 obstructing colonists’ desires to encourage migration and enact their own naturalization laws. The new republic wanted to control and encourage migration. Legally, anyone could enter the nation as an immigrant, a situation that brought millions of Europeans into the country with no hard restrictions.

A century after the American Revolution, the 1875 Page Act began to close the door to immigrants, following a logic of hierarchical racial preferences. From 1882, with the Chinese Exclusion Act, until the 1965 passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a progression of prohibitions on Asian migration and quotas restricting European migrants—significantly targeting Southern and Eastern European Catholics and Jews—transformed the open door of the nation’s first century into an obstructed pathway. A racialized notion of citizenship reinforced these tendencies. Foreign-born immigrants had to naturalize to acquire US citizenship, but as one of the country’s first laws declared in 1790, naturalization was only open to “free, white” immigrants.2 Almost a century later, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act explicitly denied Chinese immigrants the right to naturalize, and subsequent court decisions rendered virtually all people from Asia ineligible for naturalization on racial grounds. Only in 1952, with the passage of a new Immigration and Nationality Act, did Congress strike race from US naturalization regulations. During the ninety years between 1875 and 1965, US entry and citizenship policies signaled that the country was not interested in receiving immigrants. 

After 1965, mass immigration resumed. Rather than entering through an open door or being blocked by an obstructed pathway, migrants to the United States now had to negotiate entry through one of multiple doors and navigate maze-like pathways. The 1965 INA instituted a new preference system for choosing legal permanent residents. Rather than having their entry based on national origin, most immigrants who successfully secured a “green card” for legal permanent residence would use the pathway open to family-sponsored migrants. Far fewer gained entry because of their potential economic contribution to the country or because they were fleeing violence and political turmoil at home. Beyond the official pathways, a door also stood ajar to undocumented migrants, who were welcomed by businesses and often tolerated by the government. Further, during the last forty years, the United States has developed a plethora of in-between legal statuses, ones that allow temporary residence but no direct path to citizenship or permanent settlement. These statuses—an alphabet soup such as F, J, and H visas or liminal legal statuses like Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—all have their own rules, restrictions, and rights. Some are for a year or less; others have been extended for decades. In some cases, the person holding the status can work wherever he or she pleases; in other cases, the person’s ability to earn a wage is tied to a particular employer, or he or she may be barred from working altogether.

Since Trump was sworn in as the forty-fifth US president, immigration policies and executive regulations have veered dramatically back to obstructed pathways. Indeed, the Trump presidency stands out in the last half century as an outlier in its wholesale attack on all noncitizens living in the United States or desiring to come to the country— and even in its attacks on the US–born children of immigrants. 

Space constraints and the dizzying pace of anti-immigrant executive orders make a detailed accounting impossible, but attempts to stop immigration can be seen along all of the pathways of entry. Shortly after taking office, Trump signed executive orders to ban entry by would-be immigrants, students, business people, and tourists from a handful of mostly Muslim-majority countries. The president announced, and the administration has taken, various steps to implement an end of in-between statuses such as DACA and TPS, which protect young undocumented migrants or people whose homelands are in humanitarian crisis, respectively, from being removed from the United States. The federal executive branch has taken multiple legal, bureaucratic, and enforcement actions to prevent asylum seekers from entering the United States, including establishing procedures that detain people in inhumane conditions and separate children from parents. Changes to the interpretation of the “public charge” rule—a long-standing provision in US immigration law allowing officials to bar migrants who might use public benefits after entering the country—now articulates such a capacious understanding of “public charge” that a majority of immigrants seeking legal permanent residency may no longer be deemed to qualify. Refugee admissions have been set to their lowest level ever since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act. The United States will now accept fewer refugees than Canada, a country with a tenth of the US population. And while Congress has been incapable of enacting any kind of legislation to reform immigration law, the president has publicly and loudly expressed support for a physical wall thousands of miles long on the southern US border, an end to the diversity visa stream for green cards, restrictions on immigrant entry through family reunification, and an end to birthright citizenship for children of noncitizen parents. All of these efforts have been accompanied by continual vilification and debasement of immigrants that essentially attempt to dehumanize them in public speech, using language that has been unprecedented during the last half century. 

Presidents, Immigration, Foreign Policy, and Humanitarian Impulses

To understand how aberrant the current presidency is, we must understand the complicated history of presidential politics concerning US immigration policy. 

This examination starts with recognizing that during the last 150 years, the American public has often and largely been skeptical about or outright hostile toward migration. In the mid-nineteenth century, the “American Party,” commonly known as the Know-Nothings, militated against immigration, especially the arrival of Catholic migrants. Labor unions and voters in Western states, especially California, pushed—at times violently—for “anti-Oriental” legislation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.3 In the contemporary period, two decades of Gallup opinion polling on immigration shows that since 1993, there have never been more than 28 percent of Americans who believed that immigration levels should be increased (and usually fewer than 20 percent  have favored expansion).4 In most years, the plurality of respondents wanted a decrease in immigration, an opinion at times held by half or even two-thirds of respondents. Indeed, some observers have argued that it was precisely US democracy, notably the relatively broad franchise in the United States already in place in the mid-nineteenth century, that led the United States to be one of the earliest adopters of race-based immigration exclusions—and one of the last to end those policies.5

Given that US presidents are elected through popular vote, it is surprising that, in the face of public nativism and voters’ anti-immigrant impulses, presidents have regularly opposed exclusion, at least in the most severe forms suggested by Congress. They have even, at various times, taken explicit executive action to allow large numbers of migrants to enter or stay in the United States outside the regular immigration system. Sometimes a president’s expansive position proved fleeting: he would change his position as elections drew near and populist pressures overrode other considerations, or Congress would overturn a presidential veto. Sometimes the courts have judged a presidential action unconstitutional. But these moments of presidential pro-immigrant action show how the weight of strategic foreign policy concerns and of moral ideals provided distinct decision-making contexts for presidents as compared to those for other political decision-makers.

First, we can consider presidential vetoes. From the 1880s through to 1965, US immigration policy can be largely described as a “closed-door” period. Yet presidents occasionally used vetoes to attempt to stem the restrictionist tide. In 1868, the United States signed the Burlingame Treaty with China. The White House had sought to facilitate trade and establish friendly relations with China. In doing so, it eased the migration of Chinese to the United States such that the number of Chinese who entered the United States annually from 1860 to 1868, roughly five thousand per year on average, doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in the following years.6 Attempts by Congress to pass a Chinese exclusion act after the Burlingame Treaty were initially resisted by the president, largely on the grounds that the executive branch was in charge of treaties with foreign countries. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed a “Fifteen Passenger Bill,” which sought to bar shipping vessels from transporting more than fifteen Chinese passengers.7 A few decades later, at the turn of the twentieth century, Congress attempted to pass a literacy-test bill multiple times. The bill sought to bar migrants determined to be illiterate from entering the United States, a not-so-thinly-disguised effort to exclude people from Southern and Eastern Europe, people who tended to be Catholic or Jewish. Such bills were vetoed by Presidents Cleveland (1897), Taft (1912), and Wilson (1915) before Congress overrode Wilson’s 1917 veto.8 Presidential vetoes were driven by multiple concerns, including the desire to curry favor among naturalized white European voters or business leaders, but foreign policy also played a role: presidents were concerned that targeting particular immigrant groups would hurt relations with sending countries, something that presidents sought to avoid.9 In 1952, President Truman (unsuccessfully) vetoed the McCarran-Walter Act, objecting in part to the continuation of racist national-origin quotas as well as to the overall low number of immigrants permitted entry.10

Beyond staving off restrictions through vetoes or treaties, presidents have also used special executive actions to open the door to migrants, especially since World War II, by letting in specific categories of people. The Roosevelt administration established a temporary guest worker program, now commonly known as the Bracero Program, during the war, initially without seeking congressional authorization.11 In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower claimed special “parole” powers to unilaterally grant the entry of Hungarians fleeing Communist repression. Distinct from its criminal justice counterpart, parole in immigration law provides the executive branch with the ability to allow otherwise unauthorized or inadmissible people into the country on a temporary basis because the action serves humanitarian needs or provides significant public benefit. Parole is supposed to be employed on a case-bycase basis for unique circumstances, but Eisenhower innovated the first use of mass parole, facilitating the entry of 32,000 people whom Vice President Nixon painted (somewhat inaccurately) as almost all “freedom fighters” who had “fled only when the choice was death or deportation at the hands of foreign invaders.” 12  Subsequent presidents have invoked parole power to admit, outside of the formal immigration system, hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Southeast Asians. 

Such exceptional action was justified in a Cold War context as helping those fleeing enemy regimes and advancing the foreign policy goals of the United States. By encouraging defection “as a weapon in its Cold War arsenal” to delegitimize and destabilize foreign opponents,13 the executive branch found itself having to create innovative pathways to entry. The presidential appeal to higher-order foreign policy and humanitarian values was both a legal strategy and a rhetorical one. Forging international agreements, conducting foreign relations, and defending the country are all executive functions that courts can recognize as reasons for allowing a president to circumvent Congress, even as Congress is supposed to have ultimate authority over legislation on immigration. Rhetorically and symbolically, appeals to foreign policy and humanitarianism have provided political cover for presidents when they have gone against the court of public opinion. The use of parole power allowed, for example, the admission of about 130,000 Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon, even as a majority of Americans opposed their entry.14

Beyond employing vetoes and allowing entry to inadmissible migrants, presidents have also used their executive authority to affirmatively designate certain groups of migrants as temporarily protected residents who may remain in the United States for a delineated time even if they do not have valid visas or if their visas have expired. This move has been undertaken by both Democratic and Republican presidents. In 1990, President George W. Bush extended administrative relief to nationals from the People’s Republic of China, allowing those who held certain international student or scholar visas to stay in the United States until January 1, 1994, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre. This action led to the creation of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) category in the 1990 Immigration Act, under which a president can grant TPS to people in the United States who cannot return to their homelands due to violence, civil unrest, or natural disasters but who do not necessarily qualify as legal refugees. As the name suggests, the TPS designation is supposed to be temporary; the Secretary of Homeland Security can grant TPS for six to eighteen months. However, in reality, TPS can be extended repeatedly, and it has been, sometimes for more than a decade in the case of various Central American groups. The Congressional Research Service estimates that in early 2019, 417,000 nationals from ten countries were protected under TPS.15  Extensions of TPS have been made by both Republican and Democratic administrations. However, since September 2017, under the Trump administration, the Secretary of Homeland Security has announced plans to terminate TPS for individuals from six countries—El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan—and in March 2018, Trump announced an end to a similar TPS-like status for Liberians.

Perhaps the best-known recent example of expansive executive discretion— and the focus of multiple court battles—was the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program during the presidency of Barack Obama. DACA, established in June 2012, provides young undocumented people with protection from deportation for two years as well as temporary work authorization, with the possibility of renewing their protection. By September 30, 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported having approved more than 750,000 DACA requests, with about 92 percent of initial requests having been accepted.16 In November 2014, Obama announced a separate Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, but its implementation was blocked by the federal courts and it was never enacted. In 2017, recently elected President Trump announced the termination of DACA, but court injunctions have allowed recipients to retain and renew their statuses. The Supreme Court gave a temporary reprieve to DACA recipients in June 2020, upholding the program, but the decision rested on procedural grounds and did not challenge the president’s ultimate legal authority to end the program. As president, Trump has made extensive use of executive orders in the area of immigration. But unlike prior presidents who used executive action to open doors, Trump’s orders have uniformly been about shutting the door to immigrants or deporting them, never about expansion.

The Politics of Debasement and Dangers of Dehumanization

The rise of Donald Trump to head the Republican ticket, his election, and his presidency have turned the historical pattern of targeted pro-immigrant presidential actions—whether through vetoes, international agreements, special entry pathways, or protection from deportation—on its head. The reasons for this development lie in both broad-based phenomena affecting many countries and the specific actions of Trump and the people he has chosen as advisors and leaders in his administration. However, given that presidents before Trump did not engage in the same politics of debasement and that some leaders of other countries who are weathering similar post–Cold War pressures have maintained a moral high ground toward migrants, Trump and his administration must take responsibility for the current politics of debasement. 

Let us first consider foreign policy. As we have seen, at various moments, US presidents have sought to mitigate immigrant exclusions or open up new paths to entry in the name of retaining favorable relations with other countries or in order to advance objectives against foreign opponents. However, with the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy argument for admitting migrants to destabilize enemy regimes has lost its potency. Specific to Trump, prior arguments to link more open migration with more open trade find little purchase as the White House pursues a policy of economic protectionism. This is also the case for other instances of bilateralism or multilateralism as Trump tears up nuclear disarmament agreements as well as trade deals. Instead, and in line with some other countries, Trump has embraced a narrative of Islamic terrorism. However, fear of Muslim extremism clearly predates Trump. We know, for example, that 9/11 has had an effect on the immigrant adjudication system. Andy Rottman and his colleagues found that following 9/11, asylum seekers’ chances of making a successful claim have decreased, even more so if a person speaks Arabic.17 But rather than temper fears over Muslim migrants, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did when running for office in 2015 and after his successful election, Trump has sought to stoke such moral panics. Under a Trump presidency, the traditional foreign policy fetters on the presidency have frayed to the point of snapping. 

The change in the moral ideals advanced by the president also matters, with a break from past presidents’ use of migration to advance lofty values and high morals. Trump’s persona—one that bullies opponents and often relies on name-calling—has elevated hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric to the highest political office in the country. The language coming out of the White House reprises historic narratives with the racial subtext that some people are more desirable migrants than others. In discussions at the Oval Office concerning immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries in January 2018, Trump reportedly asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” while publicly lauding the idea of Norwegian immigration. A second narrative advanced by Trump is a new incarnation of the nineteenth-century fight about the “right” religions being permitted residence in the United States. The twenty-first-century version targets those of Muslim faith. As a candidate, Trump falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the World Trade Center collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks; as president, he made banning migrants from certain Muslim-majority countries one of his first acts of office.  A third narrative, again with echoes of the past, questions the loyalty and ideology of immigrants and their children, as happened in July 2019 when Trump called on four female members of the House of Representatives who he termed socialists to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places”18 from which they had come. Finally, Trump endlessly has linked immigrants to crime, whether as a candidate, when he implied many Mexican migrants were rapists, or as president, when he has insinuated that Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States include many violent gang members set to wreak havoc in the country. Such accusations fly in the face of facts, which demonstrate that foreign-born residents of the country are less likely to be charged with crimes than those born in the United States.19 Often these distinct themes—of racism, anti-Muslim animus, xenophobia, and immigrant crime—intersect to the point of dehumanizing and delegitimizing anyone who is not white and Christian.20

Populism and nativism are also evident in the politics of other Western democracies, so in a way, the rise of Trump in the United States is part of a broader trend. Far-right anti-immigrant parties have won seats, and even office, in a number of European countries. Yet leadership matters, as when Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of a center-right alliance, called on fellow Germans to take moral  leadership in assisting hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arriving in Europe in 2015 by telling them, “We can do this.” Leaders can stem populism. Or, as Trump is doing, political leaders can push anti-immigrant politics further than the public wants. In a 2018 poll, almost three-quarters of those surveyed (74 percent) favored the idea of giving permanent legal status to immigrants who had been brought to the United States illegally when they were children, and 60 percent opposed building a wall on the US–Mexico border.21 Trump’s policies in both of these issue areas thus stand in opposition to US public opinion. Trump is therefore not simply a product of contemporary populism, but he also is working actively to advance it. Similarly, although narratives of anti-immigrant exclusion based on race, religion, or foreign birth have echoes in US history, such stances were largely delegitimized after World War II.22 Trump and his administration are not just going back to censured tropes. Rather, they are advancing a deeply troubling politics of debasement and dehumanization, with migrants routinely being called criminals, rapists, murderers, terrorists, and animals.

Drawing a link between a group of people and animals is a classic indicator of dehumanization dynamics. Traditionally, social psychologists considered dehumanization an extreme phenomenon, primarily relevant in explaining and enabling genocide and violence against targeted out-groups. Recently, however, researchers have argued that dehumanization—a process or categorization of some groups or people as nonhuman or less human than others—should be conceptualized as a broad spectrum “whose milder variants have important continuities with its most severe forms.”23 Those targeted by dehumanization may be portrayed as having lower intelligence, lacking refined emotions, lacking warmth, lacking competence, or being immoral in some way. The consequences of dehumanization, even short of violence, are distressing. Dehumanization of others is associated with reduced “prosociality” such that people fail to help those who are perceived to lack uniquely human characteristics, and it is associated with increased “antisociality,” including aggression and retaliation.24 Consequences need not be expressed only in interpersonal interaction but also can carry repercussions for policy and attitudes. In one experimental study, researchers found that media depictions dehumanizing refugees caused greater contempt for refugees among Canadian respondents, a reaction that in turn led to their having less favorable attitudes toward the group and less support for existing refugee policy.25 In short, when a president dehumanizes migrants, he is increasing the social distance between Americans and migrants to the point of generating feelings of disgust toward migrants among some Americans, which can increase the chances that Americans fail to react to or even accept the physical and mental harms experienced by migrants.

As it is, immigrants and refugees are especially likely to be subjected to dehumanization. Within the general literature, groups and people are found to be more frequent targets of dehumanization when there is perceived greater social distance and a perception of hierarchy between an in-group and an out-group (as with distinctions between developed and developing nations) and when intergroup stereotypes are readily accessible to delineate in-group superiority and out-group inferiority (e.g., those based on ethnic or racial differences). But Trump has used his position as president and his constant engagement in directing public debate through Twitter, pronouncements, and executive actions to advance dehumanization dynamics. Strikingly, existing research finds that possessing a set of specific traits, ones that can be easily attributed to Trump, increases the likelihood that someone would engage in dehumanization: having a narcissistic personality, holding a more conservative ideology, feeling emotions such as contempt, and having a strong social dominance orientation.26

The research on overcoming dehumanization is much sparser than studies of its existence or amplification, but two possible interventions are increasing high-quality intergroup contact and promoting a common or superordinate identity such that migrants are no longer “others” but part of the in-group. Unfortunately, nothing that Trump has done in his first three years in office suggests that he would ever articulate an inclusive, common identity embracing immigrants in his version of making American great again. The term “again,” in particular, implies a previous age, perhaps one before the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act opened migration to people from around the world and in a time when less than 5 percent of the country’s population had been born abroad rather than the 14 percent of the population that is foreign-born today.27

In short, the scale and breadth of the anti-immigrant push by President Trump and the people he has appointed to his executive branch and other administration posts are unprecedented. Further, this anti-immigrant push has occurred in almost every facet of the US immigration system. This chapter has focused on the presidency, and it has argued that the cause lies squarely with the White House. Trump and his cabinet have not tied expansive immigration policy to foreign policy objectives as various past presidents have done. He and his administration have further rejected taking any moral high ground that understands the ideals of the United States to rest in part on welcoming migrants who want to build a better life or who seek freedom and protection in the country. The end of the Cold War, fear of Islamic terrorism, and the rise of populism are broad phenomena affecting numerous countries, but it is clear that Trump has unrelentingly and enthusiastically sought to advance an anti-immigrant agenda and nativist mindset to the point of dehumanizing migrants.

Yet we must also remember that the administration’s actions and Trump’s language find support among a significant group of voters, broadening the circle of culpability. Other institutions have also enabled the current anti-immigrant moment. The president has been able to take administrative and executive action in part because of the absence of leadership in a dysfunctional Congress. Only Congress has the authority to enact new immigration legislation. Furthermore, while immigrant advocates have repeatedly resorted to the courts as a stop-gap tactic to halt the administration’s initiatives, this is far from a fool-proof strategy. The courts provide the president (and Congress) significant deference when it comes to immigration and migrants, in part because of the court system’s willingness to view noncitizens as less than full rights-bearing residents. Although they might have due process rights if they commit a crime, noncitizens have many fewer protections or rights when it comes to their entry into or removal from US territory. Thus, a confluence of institutional and legal frameworks within an uncertain post–Cold War world system has allowed a populist president to advance exclusion and debasement as a form of status politics in order to appeal to a particular native-born, largely white American electorate that supports him. Looking to the future, although a new version of the Cold War hopefully will not return to create international tensions and fears of a nuclear Armageddon, Trump’s successor could certainly use presidential leadership to rein in the dynamics of dehumanization and embrace a more hopeful, uplifting narrative of American morals and ideals.

  • 1. “Declaration of Independence.” Available on-line, National Archives of the United States, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript. Accessed 28 June 2020.
  • 2. United States Congress. “An act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” March 26, 1790. Available on-line, Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/naturali.... Accessed 28 June 2020.
  • 3. Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
  • 4. Taeku Lee and Sunmin Kim, “The Mechanics of Immigration Polls,” Public Opinion Quarterly 82, no. 1 (2018): 158.
  • 5. David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martín, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
  • 6. Author’s calculation from statistics in Robert Barde, Susan B. Carter, and Richard Sutch, “International Migration,” in Historical Statistics of the United States, millennial ed. online, ed. Susan B. Carter et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 1:523–40.
  • 7. Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines: The Politics of immigration control in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 105. Such vetoes did not last. In 1882, President Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, halting most Chinese migration and explicitly barring Chinese migrants from naturalization. Presidential concern about foreign relations with Japan also did not prevent the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” restricting Japanese migration in 1907. Still, President Roosevelt’s concern over United States–Japanese relations led the White House to pressure the mayor of San Francisco to exempt those of Japanese origin from school segregation and to negotiate with Japan via treaty rather than pass unilateral legislation, unlike what was done with Chinese migration.
  • 8. Tichenor, Dividing Lines.
  • 9. Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration policy in the fashioning of America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 550, 240; Tichenor, Dividing Lines, 138. Zolberg, for example, reports that President Cleveland was concerned about antagonizing Canada in 1897 and that President Wilson, in his 1917 veto message, worried about diplomatic incidents arising from the 1917 Immigration Act. Germane to moral concerns—the second factor highlighted in this chapter—President Wilson also made a moral appeal in his veto message of 1915 to inclusive American values, pitting a literacy test as against the United States’ devotion to “the natural and inalienable rights of men.” Various analysts note, however, that in his other writings and actions, Wilson believed in a racial hierarchy at odds with a broad egalitarian outlook.
  • 10. Adam B. Cox and Cristina M. Rodriguez, “The President and Immigration Law,” Yale Law Journal 119(3), 458-547 (2009): 543, fn. 271.
  • 11. Cox and Rodriguez, “President and Immigration Law,” 487–88. The United States and Mexico signed a bilateral agreement for a labor importation plan in July 1942 that was funded through the President’s Emergency Fund. Congress ratified what was de facto in place seven months later when it passed Public Law 45, approving the Bracero Program in April 1943.
  • 12. Gil Loescher and John A. Scanlan, Calculated Kindness: Refugees and America’s Half-Open Door, 1945 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1986), 55–57. The Refugee Act of 1980 attempted to end presidential use of broad parole power by, for the first time, articulating a comprehensive set of legislation for humanitarian migration.
  • 13. Zolberg, Nation by Design, 326.
  • 14. Tichenor, Dividing Lines, 223; Zolberg, Nation by Design, 346.
  • 15. Jill H. Wilson, “Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues,” Congressional Research Service, Mar. 29, 2019, https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20190329_RS20844_40bba737bf5e4440ac....
  • 16. Some sources report up to 800,000 DACA requests having been accepted over the course of the program, but by July 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimated only 700,000 current DACA holders. The decrease might be due to some youth having returned to their countries of origin, but it is more likely that they were afraid to renew their statuses. https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Reports%20and%....
  • 17. Andy J. Rottman, Christopher J. Fariss, and Steven C. Poe, “The Path to Asylum in the US and the Determinants for Who Gets In and Why,” International Migration Review 43, no. 1 (2009): 3–34.
  • 18. Donald J. Trump tweet, @realDonaldTrump, July 14, 2019. https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1150381395078000643?lang=en.
  • 19. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Integration of Immigrants into American Society (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2015).
  • 20. Indeed, it is not clear whether Trump objects to foreign birth when it applies to white people, as evidenced by his comments on the benefits of Norwegian immigration or the fact that his current and previous wives were born in Eastern Europe.
  • 21. Alec Tyson, “Public Backs Legal Status for Immigrants Brought to the US Illegally as Children, but Not a Bigger Border Wall,” Pew Research, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/19/public-backs-legal-stat....
  • 22. FitzGerald and Cook-Martín, Culling the Masses.
  • 23. Nick Haslam and Steve Loughnan, “Dehumanization and Infrahumanization,” Annual Review of Psychology 65: 399–423 (2014): 407.
  • 24. Haslam and Loughnan, “Dehumanization and Infrahumanization”.
  • 25. Victoria M. Esses, Scott Veenvliet, Gordon Hodson, and Ljiljana Mihic, “Justice, Morality, and the Dehumanization of Refugees,” Social Justice Research 21, no. 1 (2008): 4–25.
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