Donald Trump was serious when he campaigned on stricter enforcement of immigration laws. With “zero-tolerance” for illegal border crossers, a travel moratorium from certain countries and stricter limits on the number of legal immigrants, the president has kept his promise (short of building the wall) to reduce the number of newcomers to the United States.
Even people who disagree with Trump’s approach on immigration – or think they disagree – should support him. Because it’s not about what might be the best immigration policy but rather who gets to make it.
The president, in his crude way, is simply standing up for the right of the people to be represented by their government and for their wishes to have some voice in their governing. In other words, it’s about the consent of the governed to say what their country is – and “who we are.”
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The media has long focused on Trump’s incendiary remarks, conflating his often-savage denunciations of criminals who are illegal immigrants with immigrants in general. But the press overlooks or dismisses his basic point, which he stated and restated throughout his campaign: “A nation without borders is not a nation.”
Ronald Reagan, who famously spoke of America as a “shining city on a hill” and a beacon for immigrants, said almost the same thing ahead of his decision to extend amnesty to 2 million unlawful aliens (the statutory designation) in 1986.
America is a nation whose first duty is to its citizens. That’s why, as historian Victor Davis Hanson points out, Trump loves to use the first-person plural possessive at his rallies: “our” miners, “our” farmers, “our” vets and “our” workers.
Trump grasped something that few of his ostensible Republican allies in Congress have not: Americans by and large will welcome anyone who is willing to work and contribute to make this country a better place, but not at their expense. What’s good for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a longtime proponent of “comprehensive immigration reform”) is not necessarily good for the rest of the nation.
But are Trump’s policies any good?
Separating families at the border may not have been required by law, but a reading of the law certainly allowed for it (until a federal judge ruled otherwise). Whether or not it made sense to separate young children from their mothers, the alternative was either to detain children alongside other adults or simply let illegal border crossers go free on their own recognizance. That would have been just the sort of “catch-and-release” policy the president vowed to end.
If Trump’s enforcement efforts are bad, then what’s the alternative?
Prominent Democrats – including U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – have called for abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws.
I say: Go for it. Campaign on that! Let’s put it to a vote and see how it shakes out.
For what it’s worth, public opinion is generally somewhere between the Trump restrictionist camp on the right and the shut down ICE and open borders camp on the left.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll in July found only 25 percent of voters favored abolishing the agency. Another 21 percent were undecided, and 54 percent were opposed. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted around the same time yielded similar results. Most respondents admitted they hadn’t even heard of the idea. Of those that had, just 21 percent said they supported getting rid of ICE.
In other words, the public in general looks at immigration in a somewhat more nuanced way than do our elites, who tend to answer objections to greater immigration enforcement with two words: “That’s racist.”
Sovereignty is not racist. Consent of the governed is not racist. Consent, in fact, underpins our immigration laws, or at least it used to. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1884: “No one can become a citizen of a nation without its consent.”
A century later, the left-leaning philosopher Michael Walzer argued in his book “Spheres of Justice” that “Admission and exclusion are the core of communal independence…without them, there could not be communities of character, historically ongoing associations of men and women with some special commitment to one another and some special sense of their common life.”
In short, consent is a vital part of what makes us “who we are.”
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benboychuk.