Opinion

Why President Trump's new immigration plan will backfire horribly

His latest witch-hunt won't stop terrorist attacks. In fact, it practically guarantees more of them.

The president of the United States got in an argument over the weekend about an imaginary terrorist attack in Sweden because he saw something about it on Fox News. And now, President Trump is using the full force of his office to try to turn America into precisely the place he imagines Europe has become, where groups of disaffected and resentful immigrants plot attacks against the countries that have so generously taken them in, while all the native citizens live in fear of the horde of interlopers.

That's not what he's intentionally trying to do, of course. He believes he's making America safe by getting rid of dangerous foreigners who were already hell-bent on our destruction. But he could do just the opposite.

While the deportations have already begun, this week the administration released new policy guidelines changing the enforcement priorities for immigration officials. During the Obama administration, priority was placed on immigrants who had committed serious crimes. Now, "new DHS policies considerably broaden the pool of those who are prioritized for deportations," as The Washington Post describes it, "including undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a 'chargeable criminal offense,' and those who an immigration officer concludes pose 'a risk to public safety or national security.'" They would also broaden "expedited removals," where people anywhere in the country who have been here for up to two years could be quickly deported.

In other words, it's open season on undocumented immigrants.

And that's not all. The administration will also soon be releasing a new version of its travel ban, after the last one died in court. This one will still bar nationals of seven Muslim countries from traveling to the United States (though green card holders will be allowed). And don't think they won't be looking to add more countries to the list if this ban holds up.

These are the first stages of the fulfillment of Trump's campaign promises to supposedly keep Americans safe by driving out foreigners, putting up walls, and keeping Muslim Americans under greater surveillance. During that campaign, whenever there was a terrorist incident in Europe, Trump would essentially say, "See!?! See!?!", believing that the attack proved he was right, and the only question was how high our walls should be.

But here are some better questions to ask: Why are jihadi terrorist attacks in the United States so rare? After all, fewer than 100 Americans have been killed here by jihadi terrorists since September 11, or an average of just six per year. Why have so few American Muslims gone to join ISIS? Countries in Europe have provided many more recruits to the terrorist group. Why are American Muslims as a group so much more patriotic and less alienated from their homes than many Muslims in Western European countries?

The answers lie in exactly those things the Trump administration is trying to undo.

Ironically, even as Trump invents fictitious terrorist attacks, there's a truth underlying some of what he says. Many European countries have indeed found it difficult to assimilate large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, at least in the early years of that wave of migrants. As a result, many of the young men in those migrant communities feel alienated and become rich targets for radicalization by groups like ISIS. Some of them have launched attacks or gone to Syria and Iraq to join up.

But as research on this topic has shown, it's not liberal immigration laws that produce terrorism, it's the difficulty in assimilating. "The more homogeneous the host country is, the more difficulties Muslim immigrants experience in their process of assimilation," one study concludes. "This social isolation seems to induce radicalization, increasing the supply of potential recruits."

And assimilation has always been what America has done well. Our combination of extraordinary religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity and the ability to incorporate new immigrants is what enables us to keep radicalization at bay, even as our status as the global hegemon makes us the natural target for radicals' ire.

But that diversity is also what makes the viewers of Fox News — including the president, who as a 70-year-old conservative white man is pretty much the median Fox viewer — so uneasy. Immigration is one of the prime movers behind cultural change; each new generation of immigrants alters the flavor of our food, our music, our literature, our entertainment, and our communities. By stopping immigration and initiating mass deportations, Trump is telling his supporters that he can turn back all those changes to a time when they felt more comfortably in charge, when their culture was the culture. Which of course he can't, no matter how much suffering he causes in his quest to do so.

So yes, we have something to learn from the immigrant experience in Europe. But it's not that immigrants are dangerous and must be kept out. It's that America, for all our missteps, is on a fundamental level doing immigration right, by being an open and welcoming society. But if Donald Trump has his way, we won't be that for long.

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