WASHINGTON – Go back where you came from.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet on Sunday did more than take a shot at four Democratic lawmakers of color. In just a few words, Trump summed up the backbone of his agenda — one aimed at reducing the number of immigrants in the U.S. through fear and force.
“Go back” was also behind his denunciation of Mexicans as rapists and murderers when he announced his first presidential campaign. It was behind his plans for a border wall, his travel ban and his attempts to end protections for migrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. It is behind his closed-door question of why the U.S. had to accept so many people from “s—-hole countries.”
Now it is behind his administration’s move to effectively end asylum for migrants at the southern border, remaking America’s role as a safe haven for immigrants around the world.
Trump’s hard-line actions and sometimes racist comments have generated outrage, yet they didn’t prevent Trump from his unlikely victory in 2016 and may have energized some of his supporters.
With another election coming up next year, it looks like Trump is doubling down on this strategy.
In his tweet Sunday, Trump said the four Democratic lawmakers — three of whom were born in the U.S. — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He said these places “need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
On Tuesday, the House voted to condemn Trump’s “racist comments.”
His policies have often been as blunt as his speech. His travel ban order, issued shortly after he took office, was billed as excluding “radical Islamic terrorists” from the U.S. A version of it was ultimately upheld in court.
His administration has also tried to block asylum-seekers from crossing between ports of entry, and he has threatened a few times to shut down the entire southern border. He has moved to end protections for migrants from war-torn or disaster-ravaged countries, and he has drastically reduced the number of refugees accepted.
And then came Monday’s announcement, which goes further than any other asylum restriction. It bans anyone from claiming asylum at the southern border if they pass through another country first. The policy, if it withstands legal challenges, seemed squarely aimed at the tens of thousands of Central American migrant families crossing the border. Many are fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their home countries.
Trump has been struggling to manage a growing border crisis. Tens of thousands of people, mostly families, are crossing each month in record numbers. The result has strained border facilities and added up to tedious delays up and down the entire immigration system. Migrants are crammed for weeks into fetid, filthy stations not meant to hold people longer than a day or so. Children who should be placed in government-run shelters with schooling, medical care and toys are held in the facilities for weeks. Illness is rampant. Children have died.
Border agents are also suffering and lashing out — 62 current and eight former employees are under investigation for offensive posts made in a secret Facebook group that mocked migrants and lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — one of the subjects of Trump’s recent ire.
While Republicans say it took too long for Democrats to address the crisis brewing at the border, Trump himself was fixated on his signature border wall, forcing the longest government shutdown ever over the topic, before backing down to say he would find the money elsewhere for the wall. Even when he is talking about the humanitarian crisis, he tends to do it through the lens of the criminal migrant.
“Democrats are kidding themselves (they don’t really believe it!) if they say you can stop Crime, Drugs, Human Trafficking and Caravans without a Wall or Steel Barrier. Stop playing games and give America the Security it deserves. A Humanitarian Crisis!” he tweeted in January.
In talking about migrant caravans, he said, “many were criminals.”
In defending his tweets on the lawmakers, Trump said he doesn’t have a “racist bone in my body.” Trump barely mentioned asylum at all during lengthy comments Tuesday to reporters, and made no reference to the major policy shift. Instead he focused his time on the topic of immigration speaking about how Mexico had hardened its efforts to stop people before they reached the U.S., and admiring their strict laws.
“Those laws,” he said, “you can actually tell a person, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come. Get out.'”