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Opinion Donald Trump is the immigration problem he rails against

President Trump speaks to reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn at the White House on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Earlier this week, the government conducted raids on agricultural processing facilities in Mississippi, arresting hundreds of undocumented workers. What you didn’t see, however, was the owners of those plants being led out in handcuffs, despite the fact that they almost certainly knew whom they were employing.

That is good news for President Trump, because if we lived in a country where the people who hire undocumented workers face a serious threat of prosecution, he’d be in big trouble. The Post’s Joshua Partlow and David A. Fahrenthold report:

For nearly two decades, the Trump Organization has relied on a roving crew of Latin American employees to build fountains and waterfalls, sidewalks and rock walls at the company’s winery and its golf courses from New York to Florida.
Other employees at Trump clubs were so impressed by the laborers — who did strenuous work with heavy stone — that they nicknamed them “Los Picapiedras,” Spanish for “the Flintstones.”
For years, their ranks have included workers who entered the United States illegally, according to two former members of the crew. Another employee, still with the company, said that remains true today.
President Trump “doesn’t want undocumented people in the country,” said one worker, Jorge Castro, a 55-year-old immigrant from Ecuador without legal status who left the company in April after nine years. “But at his properties, he still has them.”

Partlow and Fahrenthold have identified at least eight Trump properties that employed undocumented workers, and interviewed dozens of them. As one said, “If you’re a good worker, papers don’t matter.”

And it’s not like this is some kind of anomaly. Trump has been employing undocumented workers for his entire career. Some of the people who built Trump Tower four decades ago later sued him, recounting “nightmare memories of backbreaking 12-hour shifts and of being cheated with 200 other undocumented Polish immigrants out of meager wages and fringe benefits.” According to this investigation, his modeling agency, Trump Model Management, brought in foreign models without working papers, instructed them to lie to customs officials about what they were doing in the United States, and kept them in squalid conditions while withholding most of their pay.

And there’s one other contradiction: At Mar-a-Lago, Trump hires foreign cooks, wait staff and housekeepers, claiming he can’t find Americans who’ll do the work. At least that is legal. But the basic fact remains: Trump tells his supporters that undocumented immigrants represent an “invasion” of murderous outsiders who must be stopped at all costs, yet once they get here he hires them to work for him. Which of course means that he’s part of the reason that they come in the first place.

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It’s a bit strange that Democrats don’t talk about this more often, especially given that a big part of the reason Trump got elected in 2016 was his argument that the American system is “rigged” against the interests of ordinary people. It was a powerful argument because it was true. Millions of voters who felt at the mercy of corporations and a government they believe didn’t care about them but instead functioned for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful nodded along in agreement when Trump said it.

The best counter-argument Democrats could offer isn’t that Trump is wrong and the system isn’t rigged, because it plainly is. The best counter-argument is that Trump himself is the one doing the rigging, cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing regulations for corporations while he dodges his own taxes and employs undocumented workers.

You may have noticed that when Trump talks about the threat of immigration, he doesn’t usually focus his argument on “They’re taking Americans’ jobs." Perhaps that’s because he wants to argue that we are now living in a paradise of limitless prosperity, or perhaps it’s because he realizes that in most cases — even if he could certainly find legal residents who would work at Mar-a-Lago — undocumented immigrants are doing difficult, dangerous, low-paying jobs Americans don’t want. Which means that if you want people to hate and fear them, you have to make an argument based on prejudice and cultural resentment, not one based on economics.

You aren’t going to see Mississippians lining up to get those jobs slaughtering chickens, when they could make just as much working at, say, Walmart and not have to worry about getting repetitive stress injuries and slicing their fingers off. And as Angela Stuesse explains, what happened this week shines a light on one more way the system is rigged against ordinary people so that very rich people can get even richer:

The prominence of Latinos in Mississippi’s chicken plants and communities today was not accidental. It was calculated, strategic and intimately related to deeply rooted structures of labor exploitation in the region. Beginning in the 1990s, Latin American immigrants were recruited to the state by the poultry industry, where they arrived to work in some of the lowest-paid and most dangerous jobs in the country.

Once you understand that, the problem begins to look like it’s not about dangerous foreigners sneaking into the country with murder on their minds, but about wealthy business owners wanting workers they can exploit even more. And that’s the last thing Trump wants people to think about.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Trump’s ultimate immigration failure

Gary Abernathy: Trump is not a racist. His voters aren’t either.

Greg Sargent: Don’t fear the immigration debate, Democrats

Catherine Rampell: Trump’s immigration policies speak louder than his racist, xenophobic words

Colbert I. King: Donald Trump is American democracy’s worst nightmare come true