Rollins College

Response to “Trump’s Southern Wall is Eroding America’s Democracy” by Fia Frasz

I understand the concerns presented here–I’m no Trump cheerleader myself, but I interpret his ideologies and actions differently. Yes, his communication style is abrasive and divisive and I think he could present himself with more decorum, but there is more to his policies than meets the eye. In my opinion, Trump is not anti-immigrant–his concern is for American cultural and economic well-being, which as I will explain later are intricately intertwined with the well-being of our nation’s democracy. Wanting strong borders and strict controls on the number of immigrants that we let into our country points to judiciousness and concern for American democratic norms and institutions (very important to Levitsky and Ziblatt in How Democracies Die) rather than racism. Relaxing our immigration policies to accommodate illegal immigrants may prove counterproductive to our aim of encouraging legal immigrants to support our democracy for a few reasons:

  1. Relaxing our immigration policies to accommodate all migrants will strain our welfare system and make it even more difficult for low-income immigrants and American citizens to survive. This huge wave of immigrants may end up having to compete for our limited welfare resources, and it will be difficult for the government to respond to the rapidly-increasing demand for basic necessities. Demand for scarce resources may outpace our supply too quickly for it to satisfy all these people’s needs, and we could end up with a glaring shortage of healthcare, food, and schools. Ultimately, most of these immigrants could end up even worse off than they were before. (See: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-immigrants-united-states)
  2. Wages would follow the laws of supply and demand. Most immigrants are willing to work for wages below state minimums. Nearly half of all Central American immigrants who seek asylum in the United States have not completed high school. This surplus of unskilled labor will increase competition among unskilled workers, mostly immigrants, driving down wages at the lower end of the payscale. In this scenario, it truly does follow that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. (See: https://cis.org/Report/Wages-Immigration, http://fairus.org/issue/workforce-economy/lower-wages-american-workers, and https://www.cato.org/cato-journal/fall-2017/does-immigration-reduce-wages)
  3. Insufficient immigration policy is causing violent cultural strain in Europe, and it could easily do the same in the United States. In France and England, non-assimilating immigrants are segregating themselves into communities that operate under Sharia Law instead of French and English laws. These two sets of laws conflict, often violently (in the form of stabbings, acid attacks, and sexual assaults), because the French and English governments do not ensure that the immigrants they let in are willing to abide by their countries’ laws and cultural norms. (See: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/5128/france-no-go-zones)

Trump does not want to completely shut down our immigration system, and his motives are not racist–instead, it seems like he has both legal immigrants’ and American citizens’ interests in mind.

The relaxation of our immigration laws to protect undocumented immigrants (See: https://www.businessinsider.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-platform-on-the-issues-2018-6 and https://ocasio2018.com/issues) is more of a threat to democracy than Trump’s attempts to restrict citizenship to legal immigrants. As Paul Howe wrote in “Eroding Norms and Democratic Deconsolidation,” as well as Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk in “Signs of Deconsolidation,” shared cultural norms and a common national identity are crucial to the consolidation of a democracy. People from diverse ethnic backgrounds pose no threat to our democracy by themselves–many immigrants are perfectly willing to put in the effort to become American citizens legally and honor that commitment by integrating their cultural values with American values. Then again, many are not, as evidenced by the immigration crisis in Europe. If we do not use our immigration system to ensure that the immigrants we let in will become American citizens who abide by our cultural norms and values, we could end up with a nation whose identity is fragmented and whose people cannot communicate effectively among themselves. If they cannot communicate effectively due to differences in cultural goals, people cannot reach decisions respectfully through the democratic process. Steven Levitsky highlights the importance of respect for democratic norms in particular in his book How Democracies Die–politicians without respect for the norms of democratic compromise and the ebb and flow of power from one party to another become dangerous threats to democracy. The same holds true for citizens, as Howe explains that one of the greatest dangers to democracy is the erosion of a country’s basic norms and values. Restricting immigration to those who demonstrate a willingness to support American norms and values is not anti-democratic–it is the opposite. It is one of the most effective ways to fortify democracy.

The economic issues that accompany insufficient (or simply no) immigration policy also threaten democracy because they exacerbate socioeconomic inequality. According to Howe, a lack of education (caused by a shortage of adequate public schools for immigrants in the event of mass increases in demand) and a low socioeconomic status (caused by falling wages and increased competition for extreme low-wage and higher-paid jobs) both contribute to social malaise and a lack of interest in politics. These are also powerful threats to democracy because they increase polarization (the very rich versus the very poor) and often precede violent overthrow of the government. Levitsky explains that demagogues took over Russia and Germany in the twentieth century (one example on the far left and the other on the far right) because the masses had lost hope in their existing government systems’ capacity to improve their economic situation. The people believed that their current systems had failed them and were desperate to adopt any kind of initiative that would remedy their economic woes. Intensified economic issues are as much of a threat to democracy as culture wars, and as I explained earlier, we have many reasons to expect that an unusually large surplus of unskilled labor will shock our economic climate.

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