If there was ever any hope that President Donald Trump’s views on immigration might be softening — that, for example, he might recognize the inhumanity of traumatizing young children by separating them from their mothers in order to scare other families from even attempting to enter the country — recent events are a reminder that what the president really wants is to close the United States to new arrivals altogether. We know this because that’s exactly what Mr. Trump said, having tweeted over the weekend that “Our Country is FULL!"
The recent firing of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was just the start of a purge within the agency. Gone, too, are the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the undersecretary for management, the DHS general counsel and, for good measure, the head of the U.S. Secret Service. Most, if not all, were targeted for deportation from federal service by Stephen Miller, the 33-year-old Trump “senior” adviser who has never met an anti-immigration policy he found abhorrent. Mr. Miller’s nativist credentials are well established — he reportedly found Ms. Nielsen too wishy-washy on border security because she wanted the administration to follow the rule of law — but please don’t call him a “white nationalist.” We know this because Mr. Miller’s allies objected when Rep. Ilhan Omar called him that on Twitter Monday and all sorts of Republicans came to his defense (the president included by way of re-tweet), some seeing the label as anti-Semitic, as Mr. Miller is Jewish and the congresswoman is Muslim.
But Americans might be confused. What constitutes white nationalism, and why would someone who holds Mr. Miller’s views find that label insulting? Mr. Miller’s opinions on immigration certainly fit the definition of “seeking to develop and maintain a white national identity.” White nationalists love President Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration, and there are simply too many examples of his Mexicans-are-rapists, some-very-fine-people among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, s***hole countries rhetoric coming out of the White House not to see both Mr. Miller and Mr. Trump as fellow travelers if not actual card-carrying white nationalists. They sure aren’t talking about building a wall around Canada.
What all this turnover might mean is not clear, but it will surely herald more extreme immigration policies. Many of them are grounded in President Trump’s notion that the U.S. is currently full — as if the economy would be damaged by population growth. If that were true, President Trump should be setting limits on child-bearing which, of course, he is not. The reality is that the U.S. could use all the workers it can get its hands on, particularly given falling birth rates. One byproduct of robust GDP growth has been shortages — that’s right, shortages — of workers. Immigrants have been a valued resource in sectors of the economy that otherwise might be failing right now. Close to home, the classic example has been Eastern Shore crab picking houses where hundreds of foreign workers with H-2B visas have proved to be the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy.
Instead, we can surely expect the next round of appointees at DHS to amplify their Chicken Little views on border security while ignoring the reality that many of the most serious problems the U.S. faces at the southern border are of this administration’s making. Overcrowded immigration courts, poorly managed detention facilities, a failure to acknowledge, let alone address, political instability in Central America and the generally poisonous atmosphere surrounding immigration policy can all be traced to President Trump himself. Rather than compromise and seek bipartisan remedies through Congress, the Trump approach has been more about stirring his political base over walls and vilifying asylum seekers than about finding sensible solutions.
The DHS purges — and whatever immigration “crackdowns” follow — have the feel of political calculation. As the economy slows, the debate over Russian influence in the U.S. elections and the Trump campaign continues (the attorney general’s memo representing just the beginning of the Robert Mueller rehash) and the 2020 election approaches, President Trump wants to hear the reassuring cheers from the throngs who share his conviction that the country is “FULL” and that a wall at the border with Mexico is a necessity to keep out dangerous criminals. As the former “The Apprentice” star knows full well, every “reality TV” entertainment show needs its villains.