With right-wing rhetoric on the rise, Trump is ramping up his campaign against immigrants.
With campaigning for the 2020 US presidential elections underway, advocacy organisations and rights groups around the country worry that President Donald Trump will continue to escalate his administration’s crackdown on immigration, both legal and irregular.
On June 17, Trump took to Twitter, announcing that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States”.
“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” Trump wrote. “Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people.”
Trump’s comments come amid a flurry of changes to US immigration policy and an intensification of rhetoric targeting immigration, worrying legal groups and advocacy organisations that work with immigrants and refugees.
“I think that, when we get to elections, it's going to be really focused on immigration,” Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today and an expert on the radical far-right, told TRT World.
Among Republicans, support for Trump’s performance sits at 89 percent, according to a recent Fox News poll.
Although a majority of Americans think Trump has gone “too far” on immigration, according to the Fox survey, other polls suggest that Republicans are far more likely to oppose immigration.
In March, the Associated Press news agency and the NORC Center for Public Affairs released data from a survey conducted by the General Social Survey (GSS) the previous year.
That study found that 53 percent of Republicans wanted to see a decrease in immigration to the US, more than twice as many as the 20 percent of Democrats that support decreasing the number of immigrants entering the country.
“There's absolutely no advantage for Trump to back down on immigration,” Burley said. “It would be very hard for him to win an election without that base being mobilised.
As of 2017, an estimated 10.5 million unauthorised immigrants resided in the US, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Trump's immigration plan seeks to prevent our country from becoming a diverse nation by focusing on a merit-based approach that excludes the most vulnerable of immigrants, who seek freedom and opportunity in our country,” the statement read.
“As a nation, we should embrace diversity, not run from it.”
Elizabeth Almanzana, Coordinator of Pro Bono Programs and Communications at the Texas-based American Gateways organisation, said similar “merit-based” policies have already been in place.
'A lot of confusion'
Like many groups that work with immigrants and refugees, American Gateways has placed a renewed emphasis on informing immigrant communities of their rights.
"What we're coming across with this current administration is a lot of confusion about court dates and ICE check-ins," she told TRT World, explaining that issues like a lack of communication between various agencies and unclear policies have sewn disarray.
With 2020 election campaigning kicking off and much of the debate surrounding immigration and Trump’s policies, Almanzana said her organisation “is doing our best to educate the immigrant community”, which “has concerns” and is “fearful or panicked”.
“It has a lot to do with civil rights, the constitution, prejudice and discrimination. It's just bad,” she explained, adding that after working on immigration issues for some two decades, “these have been the most difficult few years I've ever experienced”.
During the 2016 presidential elections, Trump campaigned on promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, to block Muslims from entering the US, and to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Since coming to office in January 2017, Trump has overseen a dramatic decrease in the number of refugees admitted to the US and signed a series of executive orders seeking to block travellers from several Muslim-majority countries from visiting the US.
Targeting legal immigration
Earlier this month, Trump instructed government agencies to enforce a decades-old law that requires the sponsors of green card holders to reimburse the government for welfare benefits. “To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient,” he said while announcing the measure.
Speaking to a House committee recently, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson advocated limiting housing assistance to undocumented immigrants and their US-born children.
“It’s not that we’re cruel, mean-hearted. It’s that we are logical,” Carson claimed, arguing that the US ought to “take care of [its] own first”.
Last month, the right-wing president proposed an immigration plan that seeks to promote “merit-based” immigration and tighten security on the country’s southern border, through which many undocumented immigrants and refugees pass.
Critics charge the Trump administration with implementing a broader immigration plan that punishes people fleeing poverty and political violence by allotting preference to wealthier immigrants.
“Trump and his bigoted supporters are afraid that our country is changing and that soon we will become a nation where people of colour make up the majority,” Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez, Executive Director of the Texas-based Jolt Action advocacy group, said in a statement.