Exploited or Deported: The Catch-22 Immigrants Could Face Under Trump - by Andrew Fleming


The wall. One of the most defining features of Trump’s anti-immigrant stance during the election. His proposals to blockade the border and his threats to deport all undocumented immigrants have intensified traditional right-wingers. Criticisms of this radical conservative stance usually identify it as targeting immigrants in order to demagogically grovel to xenophobia. While these accusations present at least one reason for intense anti-immigration rhetoric, there is another sinister message hidden in calls for aggressive pursuit and deportation of poor, especially Latin American, immigrants. The threat to deport gives employers of immigrants a greater power to exploit.

While the details of Trump’s immigration plan are murky, one part of it centers on denying citizenship to those living as unauthorized immigrants in the U.S..“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump states on his website. Trump’s plan implies the only path to citizenship will be from outside the country, a long line that favors the well educated and those with resources. For poorer immigrant families already in the U.S., their only hope for citizenship would be to either uproot or break apart and try to enter the country externally through a complicated legal process. Essentially, Trump’s plan threatens the immigrants already established in the U.S.

The current appeal to many Americans of anti-immigrant threats towards latin american migrants contributes to a tradition of xenophobia. This fear is frequently associated with concerns of resources, such as jobs, being taken away from current citizens by foreigners. Consequently, immigrants are demonized as a way to call for their expulsion, which Trump has done for the average latin american immigrant: “They’re [Mexico] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Trump’s portrayal of immigrants as criminal hoarders of resources and the consequent need to deport them undoubtedly appeals to a longstanding legacy of xenophobia. A masked intention of these threats, however, is the appeal to employers of migrants, who will be able to further exploit workers.

This power to exploit is due to increasing worker insecurity from rising fear of deportation. Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed, introduced this principle during the 90’s as a reason for lower interest rates despite America’s economic boom. His logic was that rising job insecurity prevented workers from reaching a state comfortable enough to ask for better wages. When applied to the current situation of migrant workers, insecurity reveals a powerful tool for employers. Growing fear of deportation among workers makes them readily submit to their bosses. This logic applies not only to the unauthorized workers, but also to the ones in the U.S. legally who aren’t fully aware of their rights. By threatening to deport, Trump has produced insecurity in the migrant workforce. Immigrants are now coerced to endure whatever working conditions their employers may impose, under fear that they, and their families, may be torn away from where they have settled.

The potential for exploitation of migrants is huge in the U.S.. Pew Research Center estimated that as of 2014, there were 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. civilian workforce and that  “a rising share of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.” Insecurity has already gripped a number of these migrants as “citizenship applications have soared in the wake of Trump’s win.” Ultimately, the potential for gross exploitation is widespread.

In short, new right-wing rhetoric appeals not only to those who feel resources they are entitled to are being taken by immigrants, but also to the employers of those immigrants, who can now use migrant workers fear of deportation to exploit them. For migrant employers, Trump’s wall sends a tacit message; work or you’ll be sent over the border to never return.

Andrew Fleming