Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency in his city due to the massive influx of migrants arriving by bus. As a result, New York City is currently facing overcrowding of homeless shelters. An article by Gothamist points out that this is a humanitarian crisis and it is partially thanks to Republican governors near the US-Mexico border who are funding these buses of migrants toward sanctuary cities including New York. The partisan divide begs the question, what brought the United States to the point of extreme partisan polarization that causes a humanitarian crisis in New York City?
The answer lies within the populist movement seen in the United States led by former President Donald Trump. As the support behind his somewhat stunning 2016 Presidential victory grew by the masses, so did the vocal sentiment of anti-immigration policy. As a result of the stark change in immigration policy, GOP leaders attacked sanctuary cities amid the growing political divide nationally. As Trump’s populist movement grew, so did the stark divides in the United States.
We can see evidence of this even prior to Trump’s candidacy in 2015. Originally, the United States enacted what we know as the Hart-Celler Act. This legislation, passed in 1965, set forth a liberalist legal immigration framework, as illustrated by Caroline Nagel. Nagel goes on to note that over 50 years of existence, general sentiment of immigration kept towards a pro-immigration nation that would protect those that wished to enter the country. Of course, sentiments have waxed and waned based on other events, but no stark changes ever rattled the Hart-Celler Act. That is, until the growth of the Tea Party and solidified by the growth of “Trumpism”, Trump’s populist movement which led him to the White House. The change is quite stark for the GOP, as just 20-25 years ago the party was seen as one with a pro-business immigration policy. The hard line restrictionist stance of the party lay dormant for years, even with its growth thanks to the Tea Party. Trump, in his movement, helped activate the Tea Party’s desire for restrictionist policy, and this finally took the forefront in legislation with the termination of DACA, which gave temporary legal status to children of undocumented immigrants. A move highly criticized by the Democratic party and the rest of the general establishment, this further cemented the polarizing divide that Trump’s populist movement brought upon the United States.
While Trump led a more restrictionist policy during his presidency, leaders of “Sanctuary Cities” such as Washington DC, Chicago, and New York City have promoted their areas as safe havens for those afraid of deportation by the Trump-led ICE. Why do they run these programs, even with the risk of high costs? Christian Joppke points to the matter of client politics, meaning an exchange of goods, services, or support for political support in return. In this instance, quid pro quo is almost inevitable, whether it be implicit or explicit. By pushing back against the new restrictions on immigration by Trump and his supporters in legislation, the partisan divides grew greater than recent memory.
The question has to be asked of how Trump’s restricionary immigration stance gained such strong footing. An answer may be found in Eric Kaufmann’s book, Whiteshift. Geoffrey McNicoll analyzed this book, which explored the ethnic global transition to a more racially-hybrid population among most countries. Kaufmann identifies 4 primary responses by white people to ethnic change, including the reaction of “fight”. This response is perhaps most relevant to this particular case of anti-immigration sentiment. The “fight” response essentially points toward the hesitancy and eventual outright strident opposition toward large scale immigration. This is remarkably potent to the current state of sentiment among the Republican party, and further reflects the sentiment of restrictionist policy. As a result, support for Trump by white Americans grew sharply.
With the actions of Governors Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Doug Ducey to bus migrants to sanctuary cities, and effectively cause the state of emergency in New York City to come to fruition, they have brought the impact of partisan divides thanks to Trump’s immigration policy back into the forefront of our political landscape. By growing the populist movement, Donald Trump directly led the United States into morally troubled waters, with incredibly polarizing rhetoric that has driven the two party system further apart than they have been since the Civil War era.