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Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Policies Are a Voter Suppression Strategy

The GOP’s vicious immigration policies seek to entrench white political power for generations.

Julie Dodd hands out voting paperwork and directs petitioners where to go during a naturalization ceremony at the Lowell Auditorium where 633 immigrants became U.S. citizens on January 22, 2019, in Lowell, Massachusetts.

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Republicans lose when the vote expands. We saw this with the record turnout in the 2018 midterms, and we’ve seen it in the drop in Republican Party affiliation over time. This is why Republicans are tirelessly devoted to voter ID laws, disenfranchising people caught in the criminal punishment system, and opposing making Election Day a holiday. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies are yet another means by which the GOP is seeking to permanently entrench white political power for generations.

Disenfranchisement isn’t just about creating barriers to Election Day or registration — it’s also about intimidation and repression that fosters conditions that make it difficult for marginalized communities to vote. One example of this is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule that may scare mixed-status families — families made up of people with different immigration statuses, such as a couple with an undocumented partner and a citizen partner — out of living in public or subsidized housing by forcing tenants to produce proof of citizenship or immigration status.

Undocumented people, DACA and TPS recipients, and even domestic violence survivors with U-visas are already ineligible for housing subsidies today: when mixed-status families live in subsidized housing, the subsidy is decreased to exclude family members ineligible for assistance. HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposed rule doesn’t change that: what it does is put more than 100,000 people who are eligible for housing assistance at risk of eviction and homelessness, just because they’re part of a mixed-status family.

Homeless people face unique challenges to voting, especially with voter ID laws. Even if they’re able to find housing, evictions cause immense financial distress: an average 13 percent reduction in earnings. And since we know that those with lower incomes are less likely to vote (47 percent of those in the lowest income bracket didn’t vote in the 2018 election, versus only 18 percent of those in the highest income bracket) that’s likely part of the point.

Meanwhile, Trump’s demands for “extreme vetting” and other policy changes at the Department of Homeland Security have created what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) calls an “invisible wall” that slows down immigration proceedings. Lawful Permanent Residents applying for citizenship now wait twice the amount of time they used to for a decision: from 5.2 months in 2014 to 10.2 months in 2018. Slow-walking naturalization means fewer new voters able to participate in our elections. And the slowdown is impacting more than just those trying to naturalize. Work authorization forms now take 58 percent longer to obtain than they did in FY 2016. Delaying employment authorization can jeopardize the ability for mixed-status families’ ability to work, reducing incomes and, thus, political participation.

Trump’s policy changes at the Department of Homeland Security aren’t just explicitly dragging out naturalization and employment authorization with longer processing times. The Trump administration is also slow-walking immigration in many other ways. Trump’s racist bans on refugees and asylum seekers means that fewer individuals can eventually seek to become citizens. (The refugees and asylum seekers whom Trump is banning would have had a path to citizenship, whereas DACA recipients and TPS holders currently have no path to citizenship.)

This week, Trump rolled out Asylum Ban 2.0, an interim final rule (already challenged in court by the ACLU, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and others) to ban asylum protections for anyone who travels through a third country en route to the southern border to apply for asylum. This rule will affect large numbers of Central American migrants, and will also impact anyone moving through Mexico to the southern U.S. border, including those traveling from Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba and parts of Africa.

Trump previously tried a similar asylum ban last November, but a court almost immediately blocked it. Trump is not, it’s worth noting, proposing to ban asylum for anyone who can afford to buy a plane ticket and secure a visa, as flying directly to the United States to apply for asylum is not banned by the rule.

The original version of the Muslim ban indefinitely barred Syrians from applying to be refugees. The Trump administration kept issuing orders to change the ban as it kept being struck down in the courts. But in 2018 the Supreme Court upheld not only the third iteration of the Muslim ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim nations (plus North Korea, and for certain Venezuelan government officials), it also upheld what’s effectively a refugee ban. Trump’s October 2017 executive order applied “special measures” to anyone applying for refugee status from 11 countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

These are patent attempts to diminish the acceptance of refugees from Muslim-majority nations. More than 40 percent of refugees admitted to the United States came from one of these 11 countries in fiscal year 2017. Following Trump’s actions, this number has dropped to less than 6 percent from October 2018 through June 2019. Trump’s actions are clearly motivated by a desire to suppress immigration by non-whites, ensuring that there’s no new immigration from countries he considers to be “shitholes.” Instead, Trump said “we should have more people from places like Norway.”

But perhaps no issue better captures Trump’s relentless pursuit of entrenched political power for white Americans than his attempt to add a citizenship question to the census. The Census Bureau’s own Center for Economic Studies warned that the citizenship question would result in an estimated 8 percent drop in responses from households that have at least one non-citizen. But for Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Attorney General William Barr, that was a feature, not a bug, of this policy. When the estranged daughter of longtime Republican operative Thomas Hofeller found her father’s hard drives following his death, Hofeller’s own words made the intention clear: Adding the census citizenship question would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” he wrote.

The Trump administration was so dedicated to achieving this advantage, its members deliberately and methodically lied throughout the long court battle over the question. The Trump DOJ claimed the citizenship question was necessary to enforce — of all things — the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court found this justification “contrived.” Trump and Attorney General William Barr were so willing to lie to federal judges to get this question on the census because the census governs not just how $800 billion in federal funding is allocated, but how many seats in Congress a particular state gets. This translates directly into political power, and it’s why it mattered that the 2010 Census overcounted white residents by nearly 1 percent while failing to count 1.5 million people of color, giving Republicans an advantage when drawing districts.

Even though no citizenship question will be added for 2020, the damage may already have been done. Fake fliers have showed up warning immigrants that census information could be shared with ICE, which is a false claim. (While aggregated, anonymized information can be released, the underlying census data isn’t legally allowed to be shared until 72 years after the data is collected, and new safeguards are being put in place for the 2020 census.) The court battle and attendant media coverage will likely worsen the undercounting problems, as many undocumented people may fear the information they’d provide would be used to deport them, and may avoid participating in the census. Concerns about confidentiality have already been raised in census field tests: a report from the census bureau showed that some respondents “seemed visibly nervous,” were worried about their personal information being disclosed, and some provided false names as a result of their concerns. So in some ways, the Trump administration’s census loss is still a partial victory for the GOP.

Meanwhile, Trump also refuses to let the issue of the citizenship question go. In his executive order following the census question defeat, Trump ordered the Commerce Department to begin working now on a rationale for a citizenship question on the 2030 Census.

While Congress debates whether or not Trump’s latest racist tweets are racist, Trump continues to churn out anti-immigrant policies that attempt to maintain both political power and white supremacy in the face of the U.S.’s changing demographics. These racist policies threaten to consolidate and preserve Republican electoral advantages for decades to come.

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