DeSantis aims to outdo Trump on immigration
The former president’s pledge to end birthright citizenship is a new low but unlikely to be the end.
Can DeSantis successfully co-opt Trump’s trademark issue? DeSantis is trying to paint the MAGA leader as soft on immigration.
At the end of May, he attacked Trump as pro-amnesty for his onetime support of a failed GOP bill that would have legalized some immigrants brought here as children in exchange for more border militarization and cuts to legal immigration. And last weekend, DeSantis met with families of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks as they criticized Trump’s decision to host a Saudi-funded golf tournament.
On Tuesday, Trump sought to reclaim his position as the No. 1 anti-immigrant crusader by reviving one of the most extreme ideas explored during his presidency: an executive order ending birthright citizenship.
The proposed order, which he promised to sign his first day in office if reelected, would face immediate legal challenges for its clear violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. His plan relies on a tortured reading of the amendment from pseudo-intellectuals at California’s Claremont Institute, such as Trump’s former lawyer John Eastman, a key player in the effort to overturn the 2020 election who also wrote an unhinged article questioning Vice President Kamala Harris’ citizenship (it led to an editors’ apology).
If the Supreme Court ruled in Trump’s favor — not impossible to imagine — it would defy more than a century of legal precedent. And it would create a shadow population of millions of U.S.-born people who could be jailed and deported. In the eyes of restrictionists, it would all be worth it for a decline in “anchor babies,” their slur for the U.S.-born children of people who lack legal immigration status.
But restrictionists are skeptical that Trump would follow through on his promise given his record of sloppy executive orders and their chaotic implementation. Past orders were often blocked by courts.
“I fear this will be one more example of him writing up an executive order and either it fizzles out or they don’t pursue it with the seriousness and professionalism it deserves,” Mark Krikorian, a lead architect of the 21st century movement to strangle legal and illegal immigration, told me. He frowns on Trump’s occasional expressions of support for legal immigration.
“He’s not even a restrictionist,” he complained to me, criticizing Trump’s failure to stop guest worker and other visa programs. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, classified as an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center despite Krikorian’s claims to the contrary. He prefers DeSantis over Trump.
So do some open white nationalists, who cheer on his policies and rhetoric online and see them as signs that he’s more hostile toward overall immigration, which is important for those who fear demographic change.
DeSantis recently signed Senate Bill 1718, which turned Florida into the most anti-immigrant state in the nation. It makes it a felony to give undocumented people rides, jobs or shelter; requires employers to verify workers’ immigration statuses and invalidates certain out-of-state driver’s licenses for undocumented people. DeSantis also banned sanctuary cities in his state.
Some of DeSantis’ actions were on the wish list of Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller, whose ideas were shaped by Krikorian’s Center for Immigration Studies and other groups created by John Tanton — a well-connected white supremacist who fathered the modern nativist movement. But although Miller did push Trump in a more hardline direction on overall immigration, he wasn’t able to implement the full Tanton agenda because of his inexperience and an uphill battle in a White House with more moderate voices on the immigration issue, such as Jared Kushner.
Miller remains loyal to Trump. But DeSantis is positioning himself as more in line with Miller than Trump himself, who sometimes caved to pressure to temper his harsh positions, such as when he called off family separations at the border in response to national outrage.
Trump’s promise to end birthright citizenship seeks to correct the notion that he’s the less ruthless candidate. One shudders to imagine how DeSantis will try to one-up Trump’s threat. “Those two guys are in a white nationalist arms race,” Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told me.
At the core of the GOP’s ever-expanding multiverse of scapegoats are immigrant communities, who represent a real threat to white male minority rule. The GOP has proved it’s just getting started with persecution of them. Whether it’s a Trump or DeSantis White House, itwould be worse than anything that came before.