18 August 2019
As the US midterm elections near, Donald Trump is ratcheting up rhetoric against immigrants to fire up his conservative support base. Photo: Bloomberg
As the US midterm elections near, Donald Trump is ratcheting up rhetoric against immigrants to fire up his conservative support base. Photo: Bloomberg

Will Trump’s anti-immigrant fear-mongering work in US midterms?

As the “migrant caravan” saga continues to snowball, Donald Trump has ordered an additional 5,200 troops be sent to the United States-Mexico border to stop the Central American “invaders”.

As the US midterm elections are less than a week away, it appears the US president is once again playing his “trump card”: stoking fear among the public over the immigrant issue and evoking xenophobic sentiments in society so as to rally the support base for the right-wing conservatives.

A similar tactic played a key part in sending Trump into the White House two years ago.

Apparently, Trump is pulling the same trick in the hope that the immigrant issue would once again work wonders for the Republicans.

Strictly speaking, the vast American forces deployed to the US-Mexico border don’t have law enforcement powers over border security, because under the Posse Comitatus Act passed shortly after the end of the US Civil War, it is unconstitutional for federal troops to intervene in any domestic law enforcement operation.

The 5,200 US troops to be sent to the US-Mexico border can only, in theory, fulfill a subsidiary role and assist the state law enforcement in enforcing US immigration laws such as helping to transport supplies or setting up roadblocks, but cannot directly arrest any illegal aliens.

Nevertheless, as far as Trump is concerned, it actually doesn’t matter at all whether the federal troops he deploys have the power to enforce immigration laws, because the deployment order itself is nothing more than a political gesture to demonstrate his tough stance on illegal immigrants in an apparent effort to canvass votes for the Republicans in the upcoming midterms.

Likewise, Trump’s latest vow to revoke the so-called birthright citizenship with an executive order is probably also intended for the same purpose: playing the anti-immigrant card once more to boost the election prospects of his GOP partymates.

Under the current mechanism, a child who is born on US soil, no matter whether or not at least one of his or her parents is lawful US citizen, will automatically be considered a US citizen.

And that explains why the numbers of Chinese pregnant women coming to the US to give birth have soared hugely within the past decade.

However, abolishing the birthright citizenship is easier said than done, as it is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. And as we all know, amending the US Constitution is extremely difficult, as it takes at least several years. And the failure rate of such attempts is over 99 percent.

But again, for Trump, it doesn’t really matter as to whether he truly has the capability of delivering his promise, because it is just a trick to appeal to conservative voters. As long as these voters buy into his words, the GOP wins.

As to whether the trick will work again this time or fail, a lot will depend on how well the Democrats remind the American public that a key element of the nation’s spirit since its founding is acceptance of immigrants.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 1

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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