Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino offensive goes into high gear
Shown here, Hans Von Spakovsky, one of a virtual rogues gallery of right wing extremists behind anti immigrant, anti-labor and voter supression laws pushed for years by the right. He is a lawyer for extreme right wing American Heritage Society. | YouTube snapshot

Last week, the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino offensive of President Trump and the Republican Right was sharply escalated with two new declarations from the White House, and two new bills passed in the House of Representatives.  I will write about the House bills and some other anti-immigrant initiatives in another article.

The Trump administration has announced a new policy, already being enforced, of prosecuting parents and other family members of child refugees who pay immigrant smugglers to bring their children across the Southern border.  Immigrants’ rights groups are already reporting cases of such prosecution.  The pretext for this draconian policy is that putting children into the hands of such intermediaries constitutes child endangerment, as there are indeed cases of these individuals, called “coyotes,” and groups abandoning immigrants in dire conditions, or even trafficking their charges into sex abuse rings or holding them for ransom.

The trouble with the Trump policy is that in a large number of these cases, as United Nations studies have shown, the child migrants are themselves fleeing situations of deadly danger as well as extreme poverty, especially in the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.  In all three countries, the activities of drug running gangs are causing thousands, including  children, to flee, and in Honduras and Guatemala, extreme abusive behavior by right wing governments is added to this.

Parents are trying to balance the dangers of staying in the country with the dangers involved in leaving.  And most dangerous of all would be for minor children to travel alone, unguided by any adult. So the Trump administration’s motive is not to protect the children, but to terrorize their families and keep immigrants out of the country (there is no legal way such children can come here, no matter what the danger they face).

If Trump wanted to protect these children, he would stop supporting repressive governments and formulate legal ways for legitimate refugees to come here.  Multiple immigrants’ rights and child welfare organizations have denounced the new Trump policy, which, among other things, could leave child migrants stuck in federal detention facilities because their families might be too scared of being prosecuted and deported if they claim them.

A second executive branch demand came from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a boondoggle which is the brain child of Chris Kobach, Kansas’  militantly anti-immigrant Secretary of State, who is the vice chair of the commission (Vice President Mike Pence is the chair).  This commission is packed with some of the worst bigots on the political right.  On June 28, Kobach, in the name of his commission, asked election officials in all 50 states to provide detailed information on all registered voters in their states.

This information includes not only names but also contact information, their dates of birth, voting history, party membership (!), the last four digits of their Social Security Numbers and their international travel activities, all going back to 2006.  The federal Department of Immigration and Naturalization was asked for parallel information about all non-citizens residing legally in the United States.

So far, 44 state elections department have said that they will refuse in part or entirely to honor this request, citing privacy and other concerns. Some information would be impossible for them to provide.  Why, for example, would state election officials be keeping records of people’s travel out of the country?  But apart from that, the state officials cite privacy concerns and indicate that they suspect that the request is nothing but part of a vote suppression strategy by the Trump administration.   Citizenship and Immigration officials are also, so far, proving recalcitrant.

After the 2016 presidential elections, Trump claimed, without citing any evidence whatsoever, that “millions” of “illegal aliens” had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.  The strategy engaged in by Trump, Pence, Kobach and the rest seems to be to cook up “evidence” post-facto to prove that this claim was well founded.  They want to compare the lists of legal non-citizens living in the United States (there are no lists of undocumented immigrants, of course) with the voter registration lists, so as to come up with “proof” of millions of people voting illegally, presumably for the more immigrant-friendly Democrats.

The dangers of these demands are multiple.  The Trump administration and the Republican right are increasingly linked to local vigilante groups. If the information that the Pence-Trump commission receives is to be made public, as they have stated, it sets the stage for such vigilantes to harass voters at the polling place or even at their places of residence.  Moreover, the information found on voter registration lists is notoriously unreliable, with misspelled names, duplicate names and the impossibility to election registrars keeping up with changes in people’s names and addresses as well as with new federal grants of citizenship via naturalization.  It would set off a massive nationwide fishing expedition against various social groups, especially those with Spanish surnames or who otherwise are deemed to be unfriendly to the Republican Party.  This is transparently part of a national vote suppression effort aimed at preventing big losses for the Republicans in coming elections.

To be clear, not only is there practically no evidence of non-citizens, with or without papers, voting in federal elections, but noncitizens have no motive to do so, as it could lead to arrest and deportation even for people living legally in this country.

Nevertheless, similar vote suppression efforts are going on at the state level.  In Virgnia, for example, the right wing press and politicians have been claiming that “thousands” of “illegal aliens” have been voting in state and federal elections.  The claims, in the ultra-right Washington Times and other media, are based on a “study” by a very dodgy group called the Public Interest Legal Foundation.  A glance at the list of Board members of this organization tells the story.  The Foundation’s president, J Christian Adams, has been involved in litigation to defend “the discriminated against white minority” in Mississippi.  The Chairman of the Board, Cleta Mitchell, is a crusading opponent of LGBTQ rights.         Another Board member, Brian Brown, is a right wing fanatic opposed to same-sex marriage.  Board member John C. Eastman is a leading  promoter of the discredited idea that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not confer citizenship by birth on children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents.  This rogues gallery would not be complete without the inimitable Hans von Spakovsky, whose name crops up in many stories about the ultra right, and is especially noted for his anti-immigrant and anti-refugee positions.

The agenda is clear.  New citizens, Latinos, Muslims and minorities in general, along with women, LGBTQ people and the poor, are among the population sectors most likely to vote against the Republican Party in the midterm elections in 2018, and the state elections in Virginia and New Jersey in November of this year.  They will do so to punish Trump for his bigoted and cruel policies.   Since Trump’s and the Republicans’ core right wing social base supports them precisely because of these harsh and racist policies, the chosen way to prevent electoral defeat is so far not to soften the policies, but to “double down” on them while going all out on voter suppression.

We need to mobilize and fight against all of these policies, including especially voter suppression. And it’s going to be a hell of a fight.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.