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Julien Mercille: 'Trump is simply continuing policies pursued by Democrats'

Donald Trump’s mass deportation plan and wall building is very similar to Barack Obama’s and the Clinton’s, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

BY NOW WE all know that Donald Trump wants to deport 3 million “illegal immigrants” and build a big wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent more Latin Americans from getting inside the United States.

Recently, Trump elaborated on those plans. He downplayed his campaign declarations to deport all 11 million unauthorised immigrants and now says he will deport 2-3 million, targeting “drug dealers” and “gang members”. Also, he said that sections of his proposed wall might be a fence.

Those plans are a serious attack on immigrants, many of them poor. The media has rightly exposed Trump’s scheme throughout the campaign and since the election.

Obama deported more people than any other president in US history

However, the point that is often missing is that Trump’s strategy has already been implemented by President Obama, and by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, Obama has been the “deporter-in-chief”: he has deported more than 2.7 million unauthorised immigrants, mostly to Mexico and Central America. This is more than any other president in the history of the United States.

If Trump acts on his promises, this will clog the judicial apparatus that will need to process several additional millions of cases. It would necessitate a huge expansion in the number of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel. In other words, human resources would be directed in the wrong direction.

But again, there is continuity with Obama. A significant number of his deportations involved people who had committed only minor infractions, like traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all. For example, in 2015 alone, Obama deported 146,132 Mexicans, 33,249 Guatemalans, 21, 920 Salvadorans and 20,309 Hondurans.

Obama Trump President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump. Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Great Wall of Trump?

Trump declared he would build a 30-foot tall wall along the 3,000 kilometer border with Mexico. He said he would force Mexico to pay for the $10 billion barrier and that he would create a big “deportation force” while banning Muslims from entering the country (he’s changed the details of his positions every now and then – Trump is not known for consistency).

However, the border security apparatus has been a bipartisan consensus since the 1990s. Since that time, a complex of walls, guards and detection systems has been put in place to police the border. The number of border patrol agents rose from 4,000 to over 21,000 and the budget for border and immigration enforcement zoomed from $1.5 to $19.5 billion, a 12-fold increase.

In particular, the wall already exists. In 1994, the US Army Corps of Engineers began erecting a wall, the first time a true effort to build a barrier was undertaken. The reason at that time was the anticipated flood of migrants from Mexico in the wake of NAFTA’s passage (the free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada).

As the Mexican economy suffered significant shocks because of that agreement, peasants and employees who lost their jobs began crossing the border to the United States. Then President Bill Clinton said, “This administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders… We are increasing our border controls by fifty per cent.” Since then, border protection expanded exponentially, under Clinton, Bush and Obama.

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The result? More than 6 million migrants have died while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border since 2000.

The wall construction started under Bill Clinton, but most of the existing 1,100 kilometers of fencing along the border was built after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. At the time, Hillary Clinton (as a Senator) voted in favor of that bill (along with 26 other Democrats). At a campaign event in 2015, she declared: “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to built a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in”, and “ I do think you have to control your border.”

The US establishment doesn’t like a wild card

In summary, we have a situation in which the outrageous claims of Donald Trump on deportations and a wall have been regularly highlighted by the media. However, there has been a near total silence about the fact that Trump is simply continuing policies pursued by Democrats, ie Obama and the Clintons.

Why is that? The US establishment is largely opposed to Trump and favoured Hillary during the presidential campaign. It’s not that the establishment disagrees with deporting poor immigrants or building a wall. It’s just that Trump is somewhat of a wild card, because he said he would tear up free trade agreements, distance the United States from NATO, etc.

Hillary, on the other hand, promised to be a more standard establishment figure, whose policies would be more aligned with mainstream thinking among elites and decision makers. Therefore the coverage was and remains biased.

Julien Mercille is a professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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