Bit by bit, Donald Trump’s policies and priorities are emerging into view. We know who his chief of staff is to be and in an interview last night he started to explain his plan of action after his inauguration. It begins, as you might have predicted, with immigration:
‘What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.’
The issue was one of the crucial factors in a bitter election campaign, with his opponents accusing the controversialist-in-chief of giving up on America’s historic role as a nation of immigrants; they used it as an example of how a Trump presidency would herald a new era of intolerance.
Even after November 8, and the electorate’s decision, those remain the battle lines, as a divided nations squares up to fight for the sort of America they want. Protesters at demonstrations at the weekend have taken to wearing safety pins in a public display of solidarity with minorities and immigrants (after the example started in Europe following the Brexit vote) – a visual invitation to refugees, and anyone else feeling under threat, that they can feel safe with the wearer. In a similar vein, messages of support offering refuge to immigrants threatened by deportation flooded Twitter.
Yet there’s just one thing. Like several of Trump’s policies, he represents less a break with the past and a bleak revisioning of the US than a continuation of existing policies and practices. His predecessor, Barack Obama has an extraordinary history as deporter-in-chief. He has set records for deportations, peaking at 435,000 people in 2013, according to Department of Homeland statistics. And the highs have been driven by sending home those with criminal records – just what Mr Trump is proposing.
Then there are the children, who arrive in their tens of thousands fleeing violence in Central America. Those with ‘no credible fear of persecution’ are turned back, while human rights groups have criticised the administration for allowing unaccompanied children – in theory as young as three or four – to face immigration hearings with no legal representation.
Details emerged earlier this year of plans for a month-long series of operations targeting mothers and children who arrived illegally. Taken altogether, this hardline approach meant Obama’s administration had deported 2.4 million by 2014. If the numbers continue at the same rate, he will have returned 3.2 million by the end of his second term. That is more than the number deported by every president in history added together. Where is the outrage over that?