Trump’s Incendiary Rhetoric Is Only Accelerating Immigration

The Crisis at the Border Is of Washington’s Own Making

Migrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo wait outside a shelter in San Antonio, Texas, June 2019 Ilana Panich-Linsman / The New York Times / Redux

U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration could hardly be less welcoming. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he pledged to build a wall across the entire southern border, deport all undocumented immigrants, and restrict legal immigration—including instituting a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. He has yet to deliver on the most draconian of these promises, but there’s no denying that his administration has made border security and immigration enforcement top priorities: it accelerated the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants, pushed to close “loopholes” that allow people arrested at the border to claim asylum, and, on Monday, announced a new rule barring migrants from seeking asylum in the United States if they have passed through a third country on their way. The rule, which is likely to be challenged in court, would effectively prevent anyone from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador from seeking asylum in the United States.

For a short time after his election, Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals seemed to deter would-be migrants. Apprehensions at the southwestern border hit a 40-year low in 2017. But the Trump effect didn’t last long: by the winter of 2018, border arrivals had begun to mount again. Apprehensions have risen dramatically since then, reaching a 13-year high of 133,000 in May.

What’s behind the reversal? For one thing, Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about the “invasion” at the border has only advertised how easy it is to come to the United States. What better way to signal to would-be migrants that the door is open than to warn that “We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders” this year? For another, people who initially put their travel plans on pause after the election can see that while Trump has cracked down on immigration, the worst elements of his agenda may be yet to come. Rather than acting as a deterrent, Trump’s promises to build a wall and bar asylum claims,

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