The Nativist Attempt to Delay the Browning of America

It was only about three weeks ago that Trump said the quiet parts out loud regarding his administration’s agenda on immigration.

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday.

The issue was never simply that he used a bad word. It was the deeply racist notion that black and brown immigrations—who he thinks come from “shithole” countries—should be rejected because what the U.S. needs is more white immigrants. Much as merit has often been used in an attempt to undermine affirmative action policies, the president’s outburst made it clear that his immigration policies are based more on race than merit.

New research by the Washington Post affirms the outcome of these policies.

President Trump’s proposal to cut legal immigration rates would delay the date that white Americans become a minority of the population by as few as one or as many as five additional years, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

The plan, released by the White House last month, would scale back a program that allows people residing in the United States to sponsor family members living abroad for green cards, and would eliminate the “diversity visa program” that benefits immigrants in countries with historically low levels of migration to the United States. Together, the changes would disproportionately affect immigrants from Latin America and Africa.

The Census Bureau projects that minority groups will outnumber non-Hispanic whites in the United States in 2044. The Post’s analysis projects that, were Trump’s plan to be carried out, the date would be between 2045 and 2049, depending on how parts of it are implemented.

Nativists like Stephen Miller and Tom Cotton are determined to do everything they can to halt the “browning of America,” which is obviously behind their efforts to change our current legal immigration system. It is a lie to suggest that any of this is an attempt to improve the economy for American workers.

…by reducing the country’s overall population, the plan could eventually reduce the overall growth rate of the U.S. economy. Under Trump’s plan, the U.S. economy could be more than $1 trillion smaller than it would have been two decades from now. That’s largely because the economy would have fewer workers.

The plan could also raise the median age of U.S. workers. About 4 of every 5 immigrants is projected to be under the age of 40, while only half of the country’s overall population is that young, according to Census Bureau data. A demographic crunch is already expected because of millions of upcoming retirements from the aging “baby boomer” generation, raising concerns about the long-term solvency of programs such as Social Security and Medicare that rely on worker contributions.

It is important to be clear about what is going on here. But nativists can’t stop the inevitable, no matter what they do.

…while these effects of delaying the United States’ diversification would be significant, they would not fundamentally change the country’s demographic destiny. Experts say the main driver of diversification in the United States is the native-born Hispanic population, which grew by about 5 million from 2010 to 2016, just as the native-born white population shrank by about 400,000 over the same period, according to Census Bureau data.

Among young Americans, the share of the non-Hispanic white population is already under 60 percent — a number that falls close to 50 percent among newborns and toddlers.

“You can shut the door to everyone in the world and that won’t change,” said Roberto Suro, an immigration and demography expert at the University of Southern California. “The president can’t do anything about that. If your primary concern is that the American population is becoming less white, it’s already too late.”

It is clear that as long as Trump is president, it will be necessary to fight back against the nativist impulses raging within the Republican Party—a fight that goes to the heart of how we define ourselves as a country. But none of that will alter the fact that change is coming, which is exactly what scares the nostalgia voters.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.