Trump comments highlight racial impact of migration platform


For years, a movement to limit the number of migrants into the U.S. and end a system that favors family members of legal residents has had to fend off criticism that it's as a poorly veiled attempt to produce a whiter America.

Then its most prominent supporter told members of Congress in the Oval Office this week that the U.S. needs fewer immigrants from Haiti and Africa and more from places like Norway.

President Donald Trump's use of a vulgar term to describe African countries triggered widespread condemnation, and left the small cluster of immigration hard-line groups whose agenda Trump has embraced scrambling to distance themselves from the president.

"They say it's about numbers, merit, security and control," Frank Sharry of the immigrant rights group America's Voice said of organizations that share Trump's desire to reduce both illegal and legal immigration to the U.S. "All of those are coded words that mean fewer brown, black and yellow immigrants into a white nation."

Hard-line immigration activists, who prefer the term "restrictionists," argue that the system they espouse — fewer overall migrants, an end to the family-based system that favors relatives of people already legally in the U.S. and a greater emphasis on picking immigrants with skills — is not racially motivated. They note, for example, that immigrants from some African countries have higher rates of education that the U.S.-born population and may benefit from a more skill-based approach.

"People who suggest merit-based may inherently favor white, northern Europeans — that is inherently racist," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"Immigration is not tied to Donald Trump. This preceded Donald Trump," he added, dismissing the president as someone "whose tweets cause people to cringe."

Groups such as Mehlman's helped torpedo immigration overhauls in 2006 and 2013, but they have few overt supporters in Washington. Before Trump, the most prominent one was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who became Trump's attorney general and whose former aide, Stephen Miller, is a top White House adviser to the president on immigration.

Sessions is a longtime critic of the country's system that allows people with relatives in the United States a chance to apply for visas. "Almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming here because they have a proven skill that will benefit us and would indicate their likely success in our society," he said on the Senate floor in 2006. "They come here because some other family member of a qualifying relation is here."

Trump has embraced Sessions' cause of trying to end "chain migration," a term opponents have long applied to the family-based system but one that got little attention until the president tweeted it in capital letters as he abruptly demanded its end amid immigration talks in September.

Trump also favors stopping the diversity lottery, a system that reserves visas for people from countries that have relatively few immigrants in the United States. It favors African countries and was part of an immigration deal Trump was negotiating with a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers Thursday when he made his explosive comments.

Trump disputes some of the accounts of the Oval Office exchange reported by others in the room but hasn't denied using an expletive to describe African countries or the overall tenor of his comments.

Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which advocates for reduced immigration, contended the president is mischaracterizing his own immigration agenda. "The president's emphasis on doing away with chain migration and the lottery is about people who are brought into the country with no regard to their skills, education or what their effect will be on the country," Beck said. "It's a mistake to focus on what country anybody comes from."

The Trump administration has announced its intention to end temporary protections for Salvadorans and Haitians who have lived in the U.S. since natural disasters in their countries more than a decade ago, as well as President Obama's deportation relief for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The president also has backed a long-shot bill authored by two Republican senators that would sharply cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country and prioritize those who speak English, have a doctorate and have existing job offers.

Both sides of the immigration debate have long agreed that the U.S. should move toward a more skills-based program. But Andrew Selee, president of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, said recent data suggest the current system may be headed there already: Since 2011, 48 percent of all new legal immigrants have possessed college degrees, well above the 33 percent of U.S. residents with them.

"His vision seems to not only be less immigration but more high-skilled," Selee said of Trump, "and that may be the system we're already getting."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Drake makes surprise appearance at Memphis nightclub
Drake makes surprise appearance at Memphis nightclub

He may have started from the bottom, but rapper Drake is making headlines after doing one dance that started in the Bluff City. According to party promoter Curtis Givens, the Grammy winner called him wanting to have a private party at In LOVE Memphis, a popular nightclub. Givens said it was a last minute call, but he and his business partner were up...
Woman dies after falling from balcony of Carnival cruise ship
Woman dies after falling from balcony of Carnival cruise ship

A woman died Friday after falling from the balcony of a room on the Jacksonville-based Carnival Elation cruise ship. The woman fell from the balcony to several decks below, Carnival said in a statement. Carnival Elation departed Jacksonville on Thursday for a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. Carnival sent the following statement to Action News Jax:"...
Scientists worry brain-wasting 'zombie deer' disease could spread to humans
Scientists worry brain-wasting 'zombie deer' disease could spread to humans

Deer across North America are dying from a mysterious disease that gradually destroys the animals’ nervous systems. And scientists are concerned that the infection could make its way to humans.  Chronic wasting disease — or “zombie deer disease” — was first observed in 1967 in Fort Collins, Colorado, and has since...
5-foot tapeworm wiggles out of California man after eating sushi
5-foot tapeworm wiggles out of California man after eating sushi

A sushi-loving California man with a habit of consuming raw salmon recently pulled out a 5-foot tapeworm from his own body. According to Dr. Kenny Bahn, who treated the man in August and revealed the case on a Jan. 8 episode of the medical podcast “This Won’t Hurt a Bit,” his patient thought he was dying. "He asked me for...
Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose, family says 
Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose, family says 

Tom Petty died from an accidental drug overdose after taking a variety of medications, the family for the legendary rock star said Friday.  Petty, who suffered emphysema, knee problems and more recently a fractured hip, was prescribed various pain medications including Fentanyl patches, his family said.  “On the day he died he was informed...
More Stories