Why Is Donald Trump So Obsessed with Border Asylum Seekers?

If you’re like most Americans, you don’t typically read past the headlines of articles. If a headline particularly grabs your attention or angers you, you might decide to jump into the comments or dunk on it on social media. More likely, you headed to the comments section or responded on Twitter to say, “Trump is a racist!”

And of course you would be right. But the question I want to pose here is deeper as a matter of strategy: Why are the racists focusing so heavily on asylum seekers in particular?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re a racist white supremacist looking to Make America White Again. Let’s assume that the preservation of your political party and perhaps even your personal freedom rests on coalescing white identity around your party and minimizing the number of non-whites in the country. And let’s assume that you were going about the hideous business in the most rationally efficient way, given the constraints of the American system of law and government.

Realistically, asylum seekers should be nearly last on your list of priorities. In terms of actual voters, your top concern should be naturalized citizens. The United States naturalizes about 700,000 to 750,000 immigrants as citizens every year. Of these, the vast majority end up in blue states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia, and Maryland. Of those, only Florida, and maybe Texas present concerns for you. Florida is a mixed bag, as many of those immigrants are often friendly to your hard anti-Castro and anti-Chavez positions. Most of those who do end up in those states are in deep blue cities as well. The top cities for naturalization are the greater New York, Los Angeles, and Miami metro areas. So your biggest immediate challenge is gerrymandering around Miami, and dealing with Texas as a medium-term challenge.

As a deplorable racist, you have a generational problem with birthright citizenship. A temporary or unauthorized immigrant could have children on U.S. soil who will grow up as American citizens. If you expect to lose all their votes–again, because you’re a racist who isn’t even trying to win them–then over the course of several decades that becomes a compounding issue. But first of all, the Constitution is quite clear on this subject; second, if even if you did somehow manage to take away birthright citizenship, you wouldn’t be able to revoke it retroactively; and third, you frankly have far more immediate problems to deal with. A child born an immigrant today won’t be voting for at least another 18 years. Even then, 18-year-olds vote at abysmally low rates. At worst, birthright citizenship is a challenge 30 years away. As a bigot, you have far bigger fish to fry.

And asylum seekers? So trivial they shouldn’t even be on your radar. First, very few asylum seekers are granted it. Only 30,000 people all across the world were granted asylum last year—barely a drop in America’s 327 million person strong melting pot. Second, of course, asylum recipients cannot vote. Their unborn children—if they even wind up having any—may eventually vote, but again, that might as well be a century from now given your other immediate challenges.

Remember that racist Republican Pete Wilson—of Proposition 187 fame—was governor in California less than 20 years ago. Now Republicans are a third party in a California almost completely dominated by Democrats. By the time a just-settled asylum seeker’s newborn baby turns 18, the national Republican Party could easily have already gone the way of the Whigs.

After all, even without a single new immigrant entering the country, Georgia and Arizona may turn blue in four years. Texas is about six years off, maybe less. The suburbs are trending heavily away from Republicans, the upper Midwest doesn’t look good, and most of the West is looking worse and worse. The best case for a deplorable racist would be to drastically curtail legal naturalization, make a heavy play to win over Miami, dig in heavily in Texas, and depress Democratic turnout everywhere possible. But all of these are merely rearguard actions. Without actively attempting to extend the white franchise to certain immigrant groups, as it was once extended to German, Irish, and other immigrants in the past, there is no future for a deplorable party in a democratic system.

So again, why asylum seekers? Why the obsession with locking children in cages to deter them?

I can speculate two reasons, both of which are deeply disturbing to consider.

First, asylum seekers in caravans make for compelling televised drama. Border walls have a physical presence that looks good to a camera-obsessed politician, even if they accomplish nothing in real life. The obsession with asylum seekers makes sense if President Bigot isn’t actually in charge, but Bigot TV is running the show.

If Fox News isn’t the media arm of the Republican Party, but rather the Republican Party is the legislative arm of Fox News, then captivating prejudiced audiences with weeks of caravan drama for ratings makes perfect sense. Then it’s less a question of actually Making America White Again, and more a matter of scaring the sorts of people who vote for politicians who promise to do that—while selling them catheters, mobility stairs. and doomsday prepper packages. After all, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh don’t actually need the Republican Party to thrive. They just need an angry audience. Like Father Coughlin during the reign of FDR, they do well under Democratic and Republican rule alike. Still, one would think that if it were just this simple, someone in the White House orbit would have noticed and shifted course.

The second possibility is that President Deplorable Bigot is also President Conspiracy Theory. Perhaps he truly believes that massive numbers of undocumented immigrants are pouring into the country and actually voting (in swing states with Republican governors and secretaries of state?) in the next election; or that asylum seekers are coming into the country, blending in to the population while awaiting their hearing dates, then showing up to vote in Ohio. Maybe the president is dumb enough to believe this is almost certain—which would in part explain his interest in having the leading Republican voter fraud conspiracy theorist Kris Kobach head up immigration enforcement. But the challenge with this theory is that, while the president may be gullible enough to buy this, his other immigration advisers, most notably Stephen Miller, are not. They know better.

Which still leaves the open question: why asylum seekers? Why keep tormenting them despite all the bad press? Why is this the hill for even a deplorable racist to die on?

Diligent reporters should be trying to find out.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.