"I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me --and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
You probably had a pretty strong reaction to this--either pretty excited or pretty horrified. It's either a bold new move or a dystopian nightmare.
Or you may have heard that Donald Trump plans to deport a whopping 3 million illegal/undocumented immigrants.
Again, cue joy and horror.
These reactions couldn't seem father apart, but they share something very important in common: they both agree that Trump's Mexican immigration policy is significantly different from Obama's.
Let's take a look.
Obama and Trump: The "Wall"
What a daring new concept--for good or ill--right?
Well, not quite.
Turns out we've been building a fence along the border with Mexico since 1993. In 2005 and 2006, Congress passed legislation to extend the fence (some physical, some "virtual") to about 700 miles of the 1900 mile border. Depending on how you count it, that portion of the fence is "basically complete."
Some of it is double-layer, some triple-layer, some concrete--other parts are just a vehicle fence. Border security and patrols, designed to deter illegal immigration, have also reached new highs under Obama.
Trump's plan to "build a wall" is an extension of the current project that's been ongoing for 23 years--not a radical departure from current practice. Whether you are for a border barrier or against it, it's just nothing new.
I may need to ask forgiveness for comparing a "fence" to a "wall." Perhaps a "wall," being presumably somewhat bigger than a fence (though we don't yet know) has more symbolic impact of some sort. Perhaps it is more grandiose, more impressive, or perhaps even more effective (though we don't yet know). But as a matter of policy--"we're going to put a physical barrier here to stop people from crossing without permission"--it is precisely the same.
Obama and Trump: Deportations
President Obama's administration has deported over 2.7 million undocumented immigrants--more than any President before him--91% of whom had a criminal record. You may say, "that's different!" but let's be clear: Trump similarly only plans to deport people with criminal records. The only problem might be that there aren't enough of them, and he may end up falling short of Obama's record.
The Key Point: We've Bought Into a Myth
It kindof doesn't matter whether you were critical of Trump's plans for dealing with illegal immigration, or joyously embracing of them. What matters is whether you understood the whole time that these policies are very similar to the previous administration's, and whether you had a similar emotional reaction to them.
Obama built the fence and handled his deportations quietly. Trump wants to do it very loudly. But because the wall and deportations are an uncomfortable truth for the Democratic Party, which generally stands against them, we all bought into the myth that they weren't happening. And let's be clear, it was everyone that bought into that myth.
Because "the right" bought into that myth, they got excited at Trump's very loud promises, because they had accepted--just like "the left"--that Trump's policy here was substantially different from Obama's.
Such a myth let Trump get his people excited by declaring he was the only one taking this "seriously." It's also likely that the same myth helped Clinton get her people excited, because boy, deportation and a border barrier are really unthinkable.
Something to reconsider.