The US president’s hard line on deportation and immigration is too late to prevent a major demographic shift to non-whites, who tend to vote for the Democrats, says Bette Browne.
There is a demographic revolution in America and the president, Donald Trump, seems determined to impede it. Yet all the signs are that he has already lost the battle.
The power of this new demographic first became obvious when 70% of Hispanic voters helped to make Barack Obama the country’s first black president in 2008. But now Hispanics are flexing their political muscle by entering the game themselves and taking on both parties.
In the New York Democratic primary race in recent weeks, a relatively unknown political novice, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a 28-year-old-Latina, defeated 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley, a 56-year-old Irish-American who had been tipped to take over as Democratic party leader in the House of Representatives.
Her win was described as “stunning,” “shocking”, and “revolutionary”.
And it was all of those. But no-one saw it coming — except, perhaps, her fellow New Yorker, Donald Trump.
Trump has been aware of this demographic revolution for some time and is determined to halt it, political observers say, citing a series of hardline immigration policies. Thousands of immigrants are being deported and others are being barred from entering the country.
Yet it is a battle the president looks to have already lost because, in about two decades, America will no longer be a country of white-majority voters.
That will have a profound impact not just on the Democratic and Republican parties, but on the political landscape of the new America.
Ethnicity or race rarely determine how a person will vote. But statistics show that non-white groups tend to support Democratic candidates over Republican ones. Trump himself acknowledges this.
“One of the reasons [Democrats support immigrants] is because the Democrats actually feel — and they are probably right — that all of these people pouring across are going to vote for Democrats, not Republicans,” he told a rally in Michigan, back in April.
He is undoubtedly aware, too, that Ocasio-Cortez, who ran on a budget of half a million dollars from small donors, compared with her opponent’s $3m war chest, mostly from big establishment backers, is by no means alone.
On the same day in Maryland, Ben Jealous, a former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the black civil rights group, won the Democratic primary race for governor, over a candidate backed by the state’s political establishment. Maryland has never elected an African-American governor, but
Jealous could now storm that barrier.
While Obama focused on deporting criminals and those who posed threats to national security, Trump has made all undocumented immigrants priorities for removal.
Arrests of non-criminal, undocumented immigrants increased by 150% in early 2017, compared with the same period the previous year.
More than 1m immigrants have also been told they face deportation because the White House wants to end their protected status.
These include some 800,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children by their parents, decades ago, and protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and about 300,000 holders of temporary protected status (TPS), which was granted to immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, immigrants who remain in the country are having a harder time helping relatives to come into America.
Then, there is Trump’s controversial zero-tolerance policy at the US-Mexico border, which began by separating 2,000 children from their asylum-seeking parents and was later amended to detain families together.
The administration has also asked the Pentagon to be prepared to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children at US military bases.
Trump claims that his actions protect US borders, but critics contend they are aimed at deterring the expansion of America’s immigrant population and making the country hostile for immigrants already there.
Trump frequently uses incendiary language when speaking about immigrants or those seeking refuge, employing terms such as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals’ and the verbs ‘infest’ and ‘invade’.
During one White House meeting with lawmakers, he referred to some black African and Central American immigrants as coming from “shithole countries”, adding that the US should admit more people from places such as Norway — an overwhelmingly white country.
Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana called the president’s comments “yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views” and said they reinforced “the concerns that we hear every day, that the president’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’, is really code for ‘Make America White Again’.”
During his recent visit to the UK, the president expanded his line of fire against immigrants in America to those in Europe.
“I do not think it [immigration] is good for Europe. And I don’t think it’s good for our country,” he said. “I just think it’s changing the culture. I think it’s a very negative thing for Europe.”
Later, he doubled down on his views, this time including an implicit warning to immigrants about their safety: “I think they better watch themselves because you are changing the culture.”
The US Census projects that, by 2045, whites will comprise 49.9% of the population, in contrast to 24.6% for Hispanics, 13.1% for blacks, 7.8% for Asians, and 3.8% for multi-racial populations. But the figures also suggest political change could come sooner. For those under 18, minorities will outnumber whites in 2020, and for those aged 18-29 — members of the voting-age population — the tipping point will occur in 2027.
Of course, if these younger voters don’t come out and vote, their political impact could be felt more slowly. Still, either way, the trend is irreversible.
But while Trump is battling to slow this march to a more diverse America, Democrats should be confronting him and lay out their own vision for this new America, says Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and author of Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.
“The White House is assertively working to make America white again and the Democrats are too afraid to speak that truth,” Phillips says.
The main driver of diversification is the native-born Hispanic population, which grew by about 5m from 2010 to 2016, just as the native-born white population shrank by about 400,000 over the same period, according to Census Bureau data.
“By greatly slashing the number of Hispanic and black African immigrants entering America, [the president’s immigration proposals] would reshape the future United States,” says Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development.
“His attempts to make America whiter are doomed to fail, because the demographic revolution is now irreversible,” says Clemens.
“The driving force of the browning of America is no longer immigration, but birth and death rates. A majority of babies being born are of colour, and a majority of people dying are white. Whites are already a minority of all children under age five.
“So, if all immigration ceased tomorrow, the country is still inexorably on a path to a new multi-racial reality.”