It was a major part of his election campaign, so it should’ve come as a surprise to nobody that Donald Trump made good on his promise to get tough on illegal immigration as soon as he was sworn into office in front of all those millions of people. The much-vaunted wall dividing America and Mexico might still be the object of Trump’s greatest desire, but across the US, there has been a crackdown on undocumented illegals.
According to Trump, he wants to rid the US of all the “gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens”. But as we see in documentary Trump’s Fortress America, it’s not just the “bad hombres” who are being rounded up, imprisoned and deported. It’s also parents who came to America sometimes more than 20 years ago, and whose children were born here and are now US citizens.
It’s worth noting, as Trump’s Fortress America does, that Trump isn’t the first president to take a firm stance on illegal immigrants. Barrack Obama deported nearly three million people during his presidency, but his administration focussed on criminals and offered some protection for parents. Now, all bets are off. In the documentary we meet two families where children have been left behind while parents have been removed from the family home, either imprisoned or sent back to Mexico. In the case of the Duarte family, both the mother and father were detained while their children were taken care of by their eldest child, a 19-year-old.
And while airtime is given to the argument that these people broke the law and are now paying the consequences (despite the impact on their children), a counter argument is posed. Given the tolerance for a certain type of illegal immigrant for decades, surely there’s a better way to deal with the situation than to tear families apart.
So yes, the Trump administration’s strongarm tactics have had a decided impact on illegal entries into the US – a fact demonstrated by presenter Hilary Andersson accompanying the border patrol on a helicopter flight over a previously active (and now relatively deserted) river crossing. They’ve also created a climate of fear and uncertainty in communities with a high percentage of illegal immigrants who have for some time lived peacefully in the US and, importantly, contributed to the American economy as members of the workforce.
The part immigrant workers play in the US economy should not be underestimated. Not only do immigrants help bolster small-town communities that would be declining at a far greater rate were it not for their presence, but Trump’s current push for trade restrictions only makes sense if American maintains its immigrant workforce. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that for Trump’s economic vision to become a reality, increased immigration would be essential.
Of course, there’s a difference between illegal immigration – as explored in Trump’s Fortress America – and legal immigration through approved channels. But it seems Trump has a problem with legal immigration as well. Or, at least, legal immigration from specific parts of the world.
As the debate surrounding immigration continues to rage in the US – and also encompasses what to do about the nation’s “dreamers” (undocumented children brought into the country at a young age who have only known life in the US) – one thing’s for sure: Trump is going to continue to have a fight on his hands. That’s particularly the case in California, the state with the highest proportion of foreign-born residents where this is a concerted effort to combat the types of family division we see in Trump’s Fortress America.
Watch Trump's Fortress America now on SBS On Demand.