Alabama Conservatives, the Law, and How Trump Gains Power By Playing to Fears

Alabama Conservatives, the Law, and How Trump Gains Power By Playing to Fears

Donald Trump had a conference call with leadership from the Alabama GOP on Thursday, September 10th. In that call, he was asked about policy specifics in relation to his idea of forcibly deporting 11+ million undocumented immigrants as well as their children who were born here in the United States. He said that he wanted to keep those families together, so he would deport them with their parents. Those children, who are U.S. citizens according to the actual law but not according to Trump’s interpretation of the law, number approximately 4.5 million. So, the total number that would be removed according to Trump’s stated policy is around 16 million people.

Trump reiterated to those on the call that those people are here “ILLEGALLY.” He said, “We’re a nation of laws. The word ILLEGAL, as in illegal immigrant, means they are not here legally. We have to get them out, and if we have wonderful cases, they can come back in, but I think they have to come back in legally. I think its a process that can take 18 months to 2 years if handled properly.”

@ZekeJMiller: Trump on call w ALGOP tonight says removing all those in US illegally would take “18mos to 2yrs if properly handled” (Audio Link of conference call).

Yes, they are here illegally. And for conservative Alabamians, the idea of the “law” and the law being followed trumps everything else (no pun intended). So, Trump appealing to that concept automatically makes sense to white conservative Southerners, especially Alabamians. Because the immigrants in question are here illegally, the idea of forcibly removing what amounts to 16 million people and all that that entails is immediately subverted in the mind of the hearer because the “law” has been invoked. They are here “illegally.” They have no rights. They are essentially non-persons according to the law and the minds of Trump’s supporters. Trump is very smart. He understands his audience. He also understands that “the law” in this instance is seen by Conservatives as something that protects them and their interests. Their desire to see it enforced runs less along the lines of a full embrace of the “rule of law” than it does of an embrace of what is perceived to benefit them and their way of life. That is how the law can be used by those who write it and have the means to enforce it. Trump knows that he is speaking to that group, so he plays to their desire to see these laws enforced as though he is speaking about the Bible itself, which is his favorite book.

But, to put all of Trump’s plan in perspective we need to look at the whole thing and go beyond the concept of “the law” and actually look at the reality that enforcement of that law would impose upon the nation at this time. The number of 16 million undocumented immigrants and their citizen children is approximately 5% of the population of the United States. These are people who already live in the shadows of our society. They came here to work and find a better life. 40% of them came legally and overstayed their visas. Others came because they were told that there would be work for them and the situation here was much better than where they came from. Undocumented Immigrants make up 5.1% of the American workforce and 7% of K-12 children have at least one parent who is undocumented (Pew Research). In addition, the number of undocumented workers is down around one million since a peak of over 12 million in 2007. So, the crisis has actually begun to reverse itself.

For another example, in 1960, a little over 11 million African Americans lived in the South under Jim Crow laws. Trump’s plan would be the equivalent of forcibly removing the entire African American population from the South of 1960 plus an additional 5 million people. Why do I put it in those terms? We are talking about forcibly removing 16 million people from towns and cities where they have lived for years and from jobs and communities over a two year period. That means that we will be forcibly removing 21,000 to 28,000 people PER DAY under a Trump presidency. To bring in more historic context, after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed, the Trail of Tears saw the removal of 46,000 Native Americans from the Southeastern United States between 1830 and 1837. What happened was considered a national disgrace. Davy Crockett opposed it. Trump would have the equivalent of a Trail of Tears every TWO DAYS over two years according to his plan.

To continue the comparison, during World War II, approximately 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps or deported. This went on for 4 years, from 1942 to 1946. This was considered such a travesty, that in 1988 after years of investigation, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act that apologized to Japanese Americans who were interned on behalf of the U.S. Government. Each survivor was given $20,000 in reparations for a total payout of $1.6 Billion to over 82,000 Japanese Americans and their heirs. This is considered a shameful period of American history. The commission appointed by President Carter to investigate what happened in 1980 called the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) concluded that the round ups and internments were a result of racism. President Reagan’s Civil Liberties Act admitted that the actions of the government were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Trump is essentially talking about removing the equivalent of the entire number of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II EVERY FIVE DAYS over the course of two years. The failure to come to a solution on Immigration Reform that is rooted in humane and reasonable responses to the problem that has developed over the past couple of decades can also be considered to be based on “race prejudice, hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

What kind of government apparatus will need to be developed to forcibly deport approximately 25,000 people per day to nations around the world? What kind of police state will have to be created to carry this out? Trump says in the conference call with Alabama GOP leaadership cited above that he can do it through something called “MANAGEMENT.” He says that Ben Carson is critical of these ideas because he knows nothing of “management” and is incapable of operating in that world. But, Trump is not just talking about “managing” something. He is talking about creating an entire system to identify, extract, and deport around 16 million people in just 18-24 months.

Let’s look at this another way. In 1960, the entire population of the United States was a little under 180 million people. 85% of the population was white, meaning that we had around 17 million people living in the United States in 1960 who were non-white. Trump is essentially talking about forcibly removing a number of people that equals the entire non-white population of the United States in 1960 in less than 2 years.

And, how much would all of this cost in strictly economic terms? According to a compiled report from, the costs are staggering:

Another recent estimate calculated that the cost of deportation would be disastrous for the US economy. According to the right-leaning American Action Forum, it would take between $400 billion and $600 billion to deport 11 million people without proper documentation over 20 years.

That estimate doesn’t take into account the cost of enforcement to prevent return, which could reach upward of $300 billion. Such mass deportation would take 6.4% of US workers out of the country, according to the AAF report. With them would depart approximately $1.6 trillion in wages, spending, and other economic activity, more than the GDP of Texas. The agricultural industry would be disproportionately affected by the move — half of the US’ farm workers in the past 15 years have been undocumented.

These estimates don’t take into account the approximately $15 billion that undocumented immigrants contribute to Social Security, according to Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.

Then there’s the matter of Trump’s biggest real-estate plan: the wall. Trump has said that he plans to make Mexico pay for it, but Mexico has said it won’t.

Whoever’s paying would have to pick up a significant tab: National Journal estimates its cost at about $6.4 billion. The US already has 650 miles of fencing, according to National Journal. But Trump’s plan calls for a stronger one along all of it, which Fox estimates to be 1,989 miles. (A US Geological Survey report estimated the US-Mexico border’s length is 1,933 miles.)

So, Trump’s plan comes in at a total cost of around $2.3 TRILLION with some of that cost defrayed over 20 years according to the best estimates. However, no one has calculated what it will cost to identify, extract, process, deport, and relocate 16 million people in less than two years, including the agreements that you will have to come to with the nations receiving their expatriates. Does he plan to dump them all across the Mexican border? Only 52% are Mexican. We are talking about millions of people from all over the world. 25% of those he wants to deport are actually American citizens. Doing all of this in under two years means that he will have to suspend due process and it will entail an astronomical cost. I have been trying to figure it out and the variables are so many that I don’t know even know where to begin.

So, beyond the fact that we are talking about deportation almost equaling the entire minority population of the United States in 1960 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement at a total cost of over $2 Trillion once you add it all up, we have not begun to consider the social costs to all of this.

Trump says that he wants to “Make America Great Again.” As it has often been said, however, to be great, we must first be good. Imagine the scenes across the country as neighbor turns against neighbor to turn in people who have lived among us for years. Imagine the children ripped out of schools, the families taken from neighborhoods, the workers removed from their jobs all over the country. Spouses will be separated unless they want to accompany their deported spouse to a foreign land. If they do, we will add to the number being deported as even more U.S. citizens are caught up in this. People who have lived here for over a decade will be shipped back to countries that they have forgotten and where they have no assets or means to support themselves or survive. Fathers and mothers will be separated from their children and siblings will be separated, perhaps never to see each other again. Trump says that he wants to send whole families away, but when the reality is a future in a village in Guatemala that they had previously left or staying in the United States, many families will leave their citizen children behind in the same way that Moses’ mother sent him down the river in a basket with hopes that he would be rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. Those children will end up in the nation’s foster system at even more cost.

And, keep in mind, that we are talking about doing this in less than two years. That means that people will have to be identified, rounded up, detained, processed, tried, and deported – 16 million of them – all in less than 2 years. What will this do to our court system? How will this overwhelm our law enforcement? Where will the money come from to hire more officials to address the normal load of court cases? How much will be neglected as the nation turns its attention to this new national project? What are the costs of that in loss of policing and public safety?

And, what about the loss of religious freedom? We saw this happen in Alabama with the passage of HB56 in 2011 that criminalized giving aid of any kind to undocumented immigrants. The problems were enormous and the law was declared unconstitutional, but you did not have Conservative Christians in Alabama opposing it. Southern Baptists gave it support even though it criminalized basic ministry to the person in need in front of you. It made it a crime for a Christian to help a person in need in Alabama if they were not here legally. We talk about religious liberty when it comes to issues like opposing gay marriage, but when it comes to helping the poor and the immigrant in our midst, we obey whatever the state tells us and thank them for it. We call this “obeying the law” even though obeying HB56 meant that we disobeyed God in caring for people in need. No one has to take away our religious liberty. We give it away gladly every time we think it benefits us to do so.

Now, having said all of this, let’s go back to the original premise. When Trump talks to conservatives and pushes this plan on them, he does so by saying that he wants to enforce “the law.” But the problem is that the law is essentially unenforceable and does not meet the reality of the situation in front of us. The enforcement of this law would also be inhumane on a historic level. So, instead of disobeying the law, the fact that we live in a Democratic Republic means that we can both affirm the “rule of law” and address the real situation by changing the law to fairly and humanely meet the reality. That is what a true leader would do. Trump is something else entirely.

If we use our God-given imagination and reason, could we change the law so that we:

  1. Treated people humanely as people made in God’s image and having basic dignity?
  2. Sought to keep husbands and wives and parents and children together in a unified family?
  3. Secure the border in a logical way that is enforceable as well as give needed support to enforcement in the nation’s interior?
  4. Address the economic black market that has developed as employers have sought to hire undocumented immigrants at diminished wages and in poor working conditions for their own benefit?
  5. Identify those who are violent criminals and deport them swiftly?
  6. Address abuses to birthright citizenship from those who come as tourists briefly just for the purpose of giving birth to a child on U.S. soil so he/she is granted citizenship?
  7. Provide employers with a way to meet their labor needs in a legal way by revamping the work visa system for their benefit and the benefit of our economy?
  8. Establish a pathway to legal status or eventual citizenship for those who have been here for a considerable time, pay a fine, are otherwise law abiding, and are working and providing for themselves and their families?
  9. Enhance the ability of immigrants here legally to assimilate well and quickly into our nation through ESL classes, educational opportunities, community participation, and job placement?

Doing this would help us identify those who have come to work and are otherwise obeying the law and contributing to our nation. We would also be able to more easily identify those who are criminals and who want to take advantage of the system. This approach also protects children, keeps families together, increases the tax base, helps immigrant children more easily come out of poverty as their parents can come out of the shadows of American life, and provides for safety in our communities as immigrants are no longer targets of crime and can cooperate with law enforcement. This plan would eliminate illegality, uphold the “rule of law,” make our communities safer, help us identify and deal with violent criminals, add to the general revenue, lift people out of poverty and away from dependence, improve the American economy, enhance community life and participation, and ensure assimilation by the second generation, which has happened with every other wave of immigrants in American history. This is an actual “Conservative” solution according to every understanding of what Conservatism actually is. It is the perspective that Ronald Reagan had during his presidency, by and large.

The only reason why we would not take this approach that I can see is because of the innate desire that lies within people to only support the solutions that enhance, promote, and defend their own “way of life” as they understand it. But, what if, in this case, the law does not promote or protect the common good? What if what Trump calls good “management” will actually drive the nation over a cliff? Trump is pushing this plan on us under the guise of “obeying the law,” but in reality, he is playing to fear, latent and veiled racism, and frustration over a divided and inept political class. Trump’s call to “obey the law” in this case, will put us in violation of many other laws related to due process and will destroy the very fabric of our nation as well as costing a fortune that even he cannot fathom.

The Law is important. We are a nation of laws. The law exists to order society rightly for the benefit of the individual and the common good. But law emerges from the social contract and the consent of the governed and is derived from a higher law than current United States immigration policy, especially when that policy doesn’t work. Remember, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation, and the Japanese interment during World War II also happened according to the “law.” Not all laws are good laws and sometimes laws have to be changed because they are unjust laws. Our lesser laws should reflect the Higher Law and we have the capacity to change laws that are not good.

Wise people know how to balance a respect for the rule of law and an awareness that sometimes laws are unjust and make needed changes that keeps the spirit of the law while applying it rightly to new challenges. We are a nation that is capable of looking at a situation and altering the lesser law to fit the higher law regarding how we treat people and how we function as a society. For those who say that undocumented immigrants should not have come here illegally, that is fine and understandable and true. But, for a variety of reasons, they are here and we can’t go back in time. Now, we have to govern wisely and justly. Trump doesn’t understand that. He understands power and wealth and will do what needs to be done to convince people to entrust him with their fears, even if the actual carrying out of his plan would bankrupt the entire nation and irreparably damage our social fabric. Trump’s concern is not to make America great again. His concern involves putting his name on everything and having people praise him the way that he constantly praises himself.

My final question for Donald Trump in this already too long post regarding his desire to enforce the law without alteration lest we “cease to be a nation” when it comes to immigration is simply this: In his vast commercial and real estate enterprises, has he ever employed undocumented immigrants? In construction? In his hotels? In keeping up his facilities? Ever? If he has, then he has benefitted from the system he now abhors and has broken the law himself. How should we deal with him? Since we are a nation of laws and everything. That sword cuts both ways.

If America is to be great, we must first be good. There is nothing good about this plan and a law that is unjust is not a law that is worth supporting but one that should be opposed and changed.


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