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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Identity Politics Of The Trump Administration | FiveThirtyEight

"In his first few months in office, President Trump may have backed off some of his more controversial campaign-trail positions on foreign policy and economic issues, but he has remained firm on his positions on civil rights and immigration policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in particular are aggressively implementing many of Trump’s proposals from 2015 and 2016, angering black, Latino and Muslim activists in particular.

It will be months, if not more than a year, before we have comprehensive data on exactly how Trump has changed immigration and civil rights law in the U.S.1 What we can say already, however, is that in its first 100 days, Trump’s administration has in some ways redefined who the U.S. government views as facing discrimination or marginalization.

The administration is not proposing less intervention from the federal government, which is the typical Republican approach, but rather it is seeking to wield federal power, just as Obama did. But whereas Obama’s policies focused on protecting African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, people who are gay or transgender, and other groups that most Americans view as marginalized, Trump and his team are focusing on defending different groups: Christians, police officers, victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants, and people who fear Latino immigrants are taking their jobs or redefining U.S. culture, among others.

This approach is akin to civil rights for the Trump coalition, a shift in focus away from groups that Democrats (and the data) view as facing more discrimination and toward groups Republicans believe are more often marginalized. And Thursday could bring the latest example: Trump is expected to sign an executive order on “religious freedom” that will reportedly include provisions that make it easier for churches and other religious organizations to participate in politics while remaining exempt from federal taxes.

Here’s a look at the federal tools that Obama used, who he chose to protect and how Trump is using those same approaches to defend different groups:


The Department of Justice, and law-enforcement agencies generally, have broad discretion in terms of what crimes to prioritize, what kinds of punishment to pursue and how they operate. Both Obama and Trump have used that authority — or, in Trump’s case, pledged to use that authority — to focus resources on the issues they and their voters care about most. And Trump, like Obama, is trying to push local law-enforcement agencies to emphasize those same priorities.

Obama sought to reform U.S. law enforcement by essentially making it more lenient toward undocumented immigrants and more friendly to people of color. By the end of the president’s second term, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security had shifted its approach to deportation, looking to remove only “convicted criminals, terrorism threats or those who recently crossed the border,” as the Washington Post described the shift.

In contrast, Trump is enforcing immigration law more aggressively. Under the new administration, DHS now has expanded authority to speed up the deportation process for some undocumented immigrants. Sessions wants prosecutors to seek felony charges, not lesser misdemeanor charges, for people accused of trying to enter the U.S. illegally a second time. He also wants prosecutors to, whenever possible, charge undocumented immigrants with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of at least two years of jail time.

Sessions, moreover, is asking each of the 94 U.S. attorney’s offices around the country to designate a “border security coordinator” who will be in charge of making sure immigration crimes are a priority and coordinating with DHS officials in those areas. He also plans to hire about 125 new judges who work almost exclusively on immigration cases. Kelly’s department, meanwhile, is looking to hire 15,000 more people to patrol the border and enforce immigration law.

And Trump’s administration is not just targeting undocumented immigrants themselves, but also cities that defend them. Trump wants to take away federal grant money from liberal areas if they continue to act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented people and don’t hand over undocumented immigrants to DHS for deportation. (A federal judge last week effectively barred the administration from implementing a broader reduction of federal funding for sanctuary cities without authorization from Congress.)

“San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands,” the White House said in a blistering statement last week.

On policing, Obama sought to balance the interests of people of color and the police, regularly praising officers but also highlighting the disparate treatment that members of minority groups receive in the American criminal justice system. Obama’s DOJ closely scrutinized how police departments treated people of color. And in the wake of controversial incidents in which police officers shot and killed young black people, Obama set up a task force to examine policing nationally and present him with ideas that might prevent such officer-involved killings in the future.

The new administration has taken a much more police-friendly approach. Sessions and Trump, in their three months in office, have praised law-enforcement officials in speech after speech after speech, and the attorney general has said that defending officers is one of his key goals.

“Most importantly,” Sessions said in a recent speech to border patrol personnel in Arizona, “I have directed that all 94 U.S. Attorneys Offices make the prosecution of assault on a federal law enforcement officer — that’s all of you — a top priority. If someone dares to assault one of our folks in the line of duty, they will do federal time for it.”

In political terms, Obama was shifting law-enforcement practices in ways that would particularly benefit African-Americans and Latinos, two blocs that largely backed him in 2008 and 2012. Trump is shifting practices to favor five other groups: legal U.S. residents who might be the victims of violent attacks by undocumented immigrants; legal residents who might lose out on jobs or face lowered wages due to competition from undocumented immigrants; Americans who believe that allowing undocumented people to come and stay is a sign of disorder; police officers; and border-enforcement personnel. Trump, of course, won overwhelming support among voters concerned about illegal immigration in both the 2016 primaries and the general election, and he was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and by unions that include members of the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement service."

The Identity Politics Of The Trump Administration | FiveThirtyEight

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