There may be a method to President Trump’s “particular form of madness,” Hank Kennedy, a professor of political science, observed before an over-capacity crowd of more than 300 people at Wake Forest University on Friday afternoon.
“You know sometimes, incompetence can be a strategy,” Kennedy said. “And sometimes changing your mind, rolling back, issuing unintelligible orders, tweeting randomly and so forth is to keep those who oppose his policies from actually having a target. So the first two weeks he’s provided lots of moving targets.”
That’s not to say that Trump’s exclusion orders against entries from seven predominantly Muslim countries, his temporary ban on refugees and efforts to widen and intensify the effort to deport undocumented immigrants hasn’t created actual harm, panelists said at the forum, which was sponsored by the university’s program in Middle East & South Asia and ethnic studies.
Helen Parsonage, a local immigration lawyer, said she represents a number of refugees who are applying for asylum, adding that the executive orders include a hold on processing applications already in the queue.
“That means their work permits expire, which means they lose their jobs,” she said. “They lose their driver’s licenses. They have small children to feed. This is not just academic. This has a real impact on people.”
One student told the panelists that some of her family members are undocumented, and asked about the likelihood that the Trump administration will be able to rapidly carry out mass deportations.
“If you think about how this exclusion order was carried out, there was a massive amount of chaos and confusion, and it creates fear,” Margaret Taylor, a professor of law, said. “And I really go back and forth as to whether that is just utter incompetence or it is strategic because the whole point is to create fear.”
Parsonage added that at maximum capacity the federal government has only managed to deport 400,000 people per year, relative to an overall population of 11 million to 12 million undocumented people in the United States.
“You do the math,” she said. “It’s not feasible.”
Hana Brown, a sociology associate professor at Wake Forest, added, “Any major effort to deport undocumented immigrants is going to depend in large part on the willingness of local officials and communities across this country to cooperate with the federal government. And so that’s another reason why it’s important to be involved in local debates about immigration and to go talk to your city council people and talk to your local police and talk to the county sheriff’s office, because they’re the ones on the ground who would have to carry out those orders. And if there’s a groundswell of opposition locally, they’d be far less likely to do it.”
The audience applauded when Parsonage shared the news that the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has announced that it will continue to honor FaithAction IDs, which allow deputies the discretion to not take undocumented immigrants into custody for minor traffic violations and put them at risk of deportation by Immigration Customs Enforcement.
“One thing people can do is reach out to Bill Schatzman, our sheriff, and let him know that you support that because I’m sure that he’s getting some blowback on that,” Parsonage said. “And let your city council and let the mayor of Winston-Salem know that despite [state law] we do not have to comply with detainers and we do not have to go out and round up people, because federal law does not require either of those things.”
Brown and Kennedy said many of the underlying assumptions behind Trump’s executive orders on immigration are factually inaccurate.
Brown, who has looked at data from a wide range of studies on immigrants and refugees, said that widespread claims that immigrants today are not integrating into American society the way their predecessors did are simply not true.
“Today’s immigrants are incorporating as fast and as thoroughly as previous generations of immigrants,” Brown said. “And that trend is particularly true for immigrants from the seven countries that are targeted in this exclusion order.”
She added that today’s immigrants are learning English faster than any previous generation of immigrants, and achieving upward mobility on par with previous generations. And levels of incorporation, including earning college degrees and entrepreneurship, by immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan are particularly high.
Brown also said numerous studies show that when immigration policy provides support and protection to immigrants, as is the case with refugees, they’re likely to integrate into society even faster.
“People who come to the United States with legal refugee status, they benefit from a host of programs and benefits that other immigrants don’t have access to,” Brown said. “The support is pretty basic, so it’s a small level of assistance for housing and income for the first few months, access to English language training and to jobs assistance — this is not lavish. But there’s ample evidence that receiving those supports actually translates into better outcomes when it comes to incorporation and integration, and actually makes refugees more patriotic Americans in the end.”
Kennedy said that since Sept. 11, 2001 there have been zero fatalities on American soil associated with any national from one the seven countries singled out by the executive order. The ban on people from Iraq is particularly ironic.
“One aspect of this that seems totally counterproductive to me is why Iraq?” Kennedy said. “The United States is fighting alongside Iraq in a war as we speak. There are many Iraqi soldiers involved in this. So why would you problematize that relationship?”
The executive orders address a nonexistent problem while incurring multiple costs to the United States, including difficulties with allies, retaliatory exclusion orders from affected countries, and tarnishing the country’s image as a welcoming society, Kennedy said.
“One [cost] that is really important is to look at,” he said, “is how difficult it will be to really put things back together again when there’s actually some sort of — how to put it — a restoration of US values.”