President Trump’s plan to try to eliminate birthright citizenship was slammed out of the gate by historians, politicians (including some Republicans) and plenty of others who feel strongly about adhering to constitutional law.
But the president’s suggestion wasn’t aimed at the critics. It was his latest appeal to those among his supporters whose ideas about “real Americans” do not necessarily include immigrants of color and those from certain countries of origin.
Trump vowed to sign an executive order aimed at ending the right to U.S. citizenship for children born in the United States to noncitizens, a plan that most legal experts say is illegal under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was drafted in relation to the American citizenship of former slaves after the Civil War.
Trump’s pledge has been viewed as among the most aggressive immigration efforts of any U.S. president — and that is exactly what this president wants. As The Fix’s Colby Itkowitz wrote, Trump’s own campaign approach to immigration “gave voice to a subset of Americans who resented the changing demographics of the country.”
While complaints about American jobs being occupied by undocumented immigrants — and even legal immigrants — were common among those attracted to Trump’s 2016 campaign, what was also prevalent was anxiety about what a diversified population could mean when it came to defining what it meant to be American.
Trump won most white voters in the 2016 presidential election. But he was particularly popular among white working-class voters, a demographic he won in part by playing into fears about undocumented immigrants' impact on the economy, public safety and national security — particularly immigrants from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
The Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic released a survey saying “fears about cultural displacement” were a main factor in white working-class Americans' support for Trump. The report said that “white working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns.”
Here are some key points from the survey.
- Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white working-class Americans said the American culture and way of life have deteriorated since the 1950s.
- Nearly half (48 percent) of white working-class Americans say, “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”
- Nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) white working-class Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.
- Nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) white working-class Americans believe the United States is in danger of losing its culture and identity.
- More than six in 10 (62 percent) white working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture.
- More than half (52 percent) of white working-class Americans believe discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.
As he campaigns for the 2018 midterm elections, Trump is taking this same message to small towns across the country that have large numbers of white-working class voters who supported him in 2016. He is mostly avoiding the suburban communities that are home to more affluent, college-educated white Americans and the urban areas that have more ethnically diverse populations.
To many among Trump’s base, restricting — if not full-out stopping — immigration from countries where the citizens are predominantly Latino or black or practice Islam is perhaps the best way to “Make America Great Again” as Trump promised.