As the midterms approach, President Donald Trump has not been shy about whipping up his base by vilifying immigrants. Just this week, Trump suggested he planned to end birthright citizenship. Although birthright citizenship is backed by legal precedent spanning hundreds of years, it exists in the right-wing consciousness primarily as the “anchor baby” smear, which presumes undeserving immigrants are eating up privileges that should be reserved for “real Americans.”
Stephen Yale-Loehr, Professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School, published an op-ed in the NY Daily News chronicling the long legal history of birthright citizenship. “An executive order cannot repeal birthright citizenship, period,” he argued.
Raw Story spoke to Professor Yale-Loehr about how Trump is using the media to blast out his xenophobic message ahead of the midterms, the real problems facing undocumented immigrants, and what everyone can do to help.
So you fully believe that Trump would never get away with ending birthright citizenship. Why do you think he said he would?
Stephen Yale-Loehr: Correct. I think it’s a naked political appeal to his base right before the midterm elections. He’s been talking about ending birthright citizenship for years. Even though he’s issued several executive orders since he became President, he’s never done one on birthright citizenship. So why not? It’s intended to gin up his base before the election. Similarly, he announced last week he would issue an executive order to stop people from applying for asylum at the US-Mexico border. That hasn’t come out either. They’re both political stunts to keep attention on immigration, which he hopes will be a key issue in the midterm elections.
What are the real threats faced by immigrants? And how can we escape the President’s narrative?
Well, it’s the threats they’ve faced for years. For years, undocumented immigrants have experienced exploitation by employers. They’ve haven’t been able to fully integrate into society. They worry that if they report a crime to local police, they may be turned in to immigration authorities.
It creates a large underclass that hurts Americans as well because American workers suffer if employers can exploit undocumented immigrants and pay less than the prevailing wages.
What can Congress do to fix America’s broken immigration system?
They should enact comprehevnse immigration reform. In 2013, there was a bipartisan legislation, but then the bill died in the House of Representatives, because speaker John Boehner did not want to give a perceived win to Democrats by enacting immigration reform.
Unfortunately, immigration has become more polarized and partisan—just like Congress. Other than tax reform, the Congress has been unable to enact any major legislation. That means the immigration system isn’t getting fixed.
Congress could try to enact one large comprehensive immigration reform bill. Or, a series of smaller bills, such as legalizing DREAMERS. So far they’ve not been able to do anything on immigration.
What reforms would you suggest at the state and local levels give how dysfunctional Congress is?
States and localities can do a lot of things. The can be more welcoming toward immigrants. It helps policing if immigrants feel safe reporting crimes.
So, you can train local police to help immigrants feel safe in their neighborhoods.
At the state level, you can issue local ID cards to allow them to register for whatever benefits they are legally entitled to. More states can enact laws to ensure all immigrants in a state can attend college and pay a normal tuition rate, rather than increased rates they charge international students.
What do you think of the narratives surrounding the so-called caravan of refugees heading for the Southwest border?
Again, I think this is another political ploy by President Trump. The “caravan” is a thousand miles away and it won’t reach the border for several weeks. It’s a few thousand people. By contrast, we apprehended 3 to 4 thousand people a year at the Southwest border. So this is certainly not an invasion but the President has painted it this way to help him with his political base.
What can the media do to not just amplify Trump’s lies on this issue?
Oh that’s a good question. To the extent you have to report on what he says, it amplifies his message. But what he says is factually incorrect and the needs to be corrected.
Facts do not change people’s minds as well as getting to know individuals. So I’d like to see more human interest stories about immigrants and how they have succeeded in the US. Hopefully that can help change the narrative about immigrants in this country.