President Trump has not shied away from proposing harsh strategies to keep migrants out. He was willing to support a shutdown of the government to have U.S. taxpayers pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump has complained that the troops at the border aren’t allowed to be as “rough” as he would like. And he has vowed to close the border altogether, thus threatening multiple economies, to curtail both illegal and legal immigration.
At a rally Wednesday, he seemed to condone straight-up violence to deal with “the border crisis.”
The Washington Post’s Antonia Noori Farzan wrote:
A roar rose from the crowd of thousands of Trump supporters in Panama City Beach on Wednesday night, as President Trump noted yet again that Border Patrol agents can’t use weapons to deter migrants. “How do you stop these people?” he asked.
“Shoot them!” someone yelled from the crowd, according to reporters on the scene and attendees.
The audience cheered. Supporters seated behind Trump and clad in white baseball caps bearing the letters “USA” laughed and applauded.
“That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump replied, smiling and shaking his head. “Only in the Panhandle.”
Trump’s support for violence against those hoping to immigrate to the United States isn’t an isolated incident.
Last year, Trump defended U.S. agents using tear gas against Central American migrants, including children, at the border crossing in San Ysidro, a neighborhood in San Diego. And while discussing gang violence believed to be tied to illegal immigration, Trump encouraged police officers to be violent with those they suspect of committing a crime.
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
Many found the remark alarming, given that some of the migrants arriving at the U.S. border were fleeing the type of violence Trump and his supporters joked about.
Trump’s language echoes the violence called for by some of his supporters. According to an April police report, a former member of a New Mexico militia group told police that fellow members had made “terroristic threats.” While reflecting on some migrants the group had been monitoring, a militia member said, according to the Young Turks:
“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them? We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”
And after Trump’s election where he often painted immigrants as threats to American life, researchers found that bullying in middle schools was up 18 percent in Republican districts, compared with Democratic districts, according to the Hechinger Report, and was especially directed to immigrants. And nearly 1 in 5 middle school students in Republican regions reported being bullied.
A Defense Department report released documents to Newsweek claiming that:
“Estimated 200 unregulated armed militia members currently operating along the southwest border. Reported incidents of unregulated militias stealing National Guard equipment during deployments. They operate under the guise of citizen patrols supporting CBP [Customs and Border Protection] primarily between POEs [Points of Entry]."
While not all Trump supporters have taken this approach, the president has done nothing to discourage those who back him from entertaining these ideas. At worst, his jovial remarks could lead some to conclude that he thinks these responses are socially acceptable.
Taking a hard line to immigration has been a central component of Trump’s politics since he launched his presidential campaign and was attractive to those who were unsatisfied with existing approaches to immigration. It is one of the main issues that led voters to support him over other conservatives who also had tough approaches.
The boundaries of acceptable treatment have not always been clear and, some would argue, are now nonexistent. And that appears to be the way that Trump and some of his most loyal supporters like it when it comes to immigration.