Trump’s Immigration ‘Pivot’ and the Effort to Expose It For What It Is

Isaiah J. Poole

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, ever the showman, is certainly poised this Wednesday to deliver a heavy dose of eye-grabbing and eye-rolling reality-show drama.

Ahead of what is being billed as a major speech on immigration in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump is paying a visit in Mexico to President Enrique Peña Nieto, the man who Trump has insisted will pay for the wall that he promises to build between the United States and Mexico to keep immigrants from coming across the border.

There is speculation that Trump’s meeting with Nieto is political posturing designed to make Trump look tough ahead of talk that Trump is modulating his immigration rhetoric to appeal to moderate voters put off by the strident and hateful tone he used in the primaries.

In other words, he is trying to have it both ways: Reassure his anti-immigrant, nationalist base that he is the same candidate who promised a “deportation force” that would presumably kick out of the country all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants while covering his xenophobia and racism in what sounds like more rational, realistic policy.

At a news conference in Arizona on Tuesday that presented a prebuttal of Trump’s speech, Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said, “We will not be fooled by Trump’s rhetoric.”

“Let us be clear,” said Gomez, who said her father is an undocumented immigrant. “In a presidency under Trump, he will deport my family, he will deport thousands of other families. … He is a threat to our livelihood and he must not win the presidency.”

At the same news conference, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), dismissed what many pundits have characterized as Trump’s moderating pivot on immigration as “nothing but rhetoric.” Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that Trump would deliver “a focus-group packaging of the same impractical, inhumane policies” that have made Trump the darling of the extremist “alt-right.” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said that Trump was executing a “head fake.”

Trump has in recent speeches been laying out the parameters of this repolished immigration policy, and the end result is indeed not substantively different from the positions taken by the hard-right Republicans who opposed recent attempts by a bipartisan coalition in Congress to strike an immigration reform deal with the Obama administration. Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, a former member of Congress who was a leader of the conservative ideologues in Congress, essentially confirmed that in an interview with CBS News Wednesday morning, when he said that Trump’s speech would be “a very clear articulation of the very same principles he articulated in the course of the primary campaigns.” That includes spending billions of dollars on a wall that many experts say would be counterproductive, and force undocumented immigrants to leave the country and to get into “the back of the line” if they want to re-enter the country and become legal citizens.

Johnson said that Trump will likely use the phrase “enforce our laws” in his speech, as he has in the past. Missing, he said, will be the recognition that our immigration laws are the problem. There is, he said, no “line” that undocumented immigrants can get in the back of and reasonably expect to attain citizenship in their lifetimes. Plus, an estimated 60 percent of the undocumented immigrant population has been in the United States for more than 10 years. For all practical purposes, the United States is already their home. They have deep roots in this country. Many of them have children who are citizens. A presidential candidate who is serious about fixing the nation’s immigration problem would start by saying that our laws are out of touch with reality and must be changed, he said.

Trump’s trip to Mexico and the immigration speech afterward follow a Mother Jones magazine exposé of Trump’s modeling agency that reports that the agency used “foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not permit them to work here.” Mother Jones contacted three of the models directly, and reviewed the court records of a fourth model who sued the agency.

Trump has earned nearly $2 million from the company, according to campaign finance disclosure records. The models? Not so much. “Some former Trump models say they barely made any money working for the agency because of the high fees for rent and other expenses that were charged by the company,” the magazine said.

It is another fact from Trump’s business past that reveals that he is not above engaging in the same practices he denounces – from outsourcing the manufacture of his Trump-branded products to low-wage countries to exploiting immigrant workers – when it suits his bottom line. What Trump has done speaks louder than anything his new team of campaign handlers will have him say.

“For years, Republicans have dehumanized immigrants and advocated for harsh immigration policies while at the same time American corporations have exploited immigrant labor,” writes Mehrdad Azemun, campaign director for People’s Action. “All of these efforts have a racist undercurrent, systematically excluding and exploiting people of color instead of welcoming them into our society, economy and public life.”

By continuing to support the border wall and a deportation policy that, however it is executed, “would be one of the largest acts of political violence in our nation’s history,” Trump “has dropped the dog whistle in favor of the fog horn” to advance a presidency that “would spell disaster … for immigrant families” and “violate our most deeply held values.”

LUCHA, an affiliate of People’s Action, plans to stage a “cultural block party” outside Trump’s immigration speech. The intent is to celebrate the Latino and immigrant heritage that Trump is targeting. Gomez said that her organization is working with other groups to register and mobilize voters against Trump and candidates who support him, and to kick out Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who is known nationally for his vicious anti-immigrant crusades and is under investigation by the Department of Justice for racial profiling.

Trump has called Arpaio “his one true political soulmate,” and he is expected to appear with Trump during his immigration speech. He will be the reassurance to the white nationalists backing the Trump campaign that regardless of what political polish Trump uses in his immigration speech, its racist core remains unchanged.

This post has been updated.

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