Behind President Trump’s efforts to step up deportations and block travel from seven mostly Muslim countries lies a goal that reaches far beyond any immediate terrorism threat: a desire to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.
Trump and top aides have become increasingly public about their underlying pursuit, pointing to Europe as an example of what they believe is a dangerous path that Western nations have taken. Trump believes European governments have foolishly allowed Muslims with extreme views to settle in their countries, sowing seeds for unrest and recruitment by terrorist groups.
Two days after Trump imposed the ban, a senior administration official told reporters at the White House that the order was part of a larger strategy to develop an immigration system that selects immigrants the White House believes will make “positive contributions” to the country.
“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.
But U.S. demographics have been changing rapidly — and undesirably in the eyes of top Trump aides, including his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller.
They point to shifts in immigration in the U.S. over the past century to make their case.
In 1960, 84% of migrants to the U.S. came from Europe or Canada, a bubble that was largely a result of the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted the migration of Italians and Eastern European Jews and essentially banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.
Once the U.S. immigration system was revamped in 1960s to be more open to people from around the world, Europeans declined sharply as a share of those migrating to the U.S. By 2014, the most recent year figures are available, that share had dropped to 13.6%.
Immigrants from Asia made up the largest share with 26.4%.
That’s a trend Trump criticized long before he began linking it to the risk of terrorism.
“I say to myself, why aren’t we letting people in from Europe?” he asked during a speech at CPAC four years ago. “Nobody wants to say it — but I have many friends from Europe. They want to come in. People I know. Tremendous people. Hardworking people. They can’t come in,” he said, without elaborating.
At the same time that the European share of migration has dropped, the overall foreign-born share of the U.S. population has increased, quadrupling in the five decades since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act took effect. In 1960, the U.S. had 9.7 million foreign-born residents. In 2014, it had 42.2 million.
That change has alarmed right-wing nationalists like Miller and Bannon, who see Trump’s administration as an opportunity to change those migration trends for decades to come.
The two men see the country’s long-term security and wage growth entwined with reducing the number of foreign-born people allowed to visit, immigrate and work in the U.S.
Nations, including the U.S., are undermined by too high a level of diversity, Bannon has argued.
“The center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a — and a reason for being,” Bannon said Thursday at the conservative gathering.
“Rule of law is going to exist when you talk about our sovereignty and you talk about immigration,” Bannon said.
While the travel ban languishes in court, Trump’s aides are drafting a new order that will likely apply to the issuance of future visas from the listed countries and refugee admissions and allow people already approved to enter the country.