How is Trump's approach to refugees connected to the policies of the Obama administration?

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16 February
11:48
17 February
10:43

I’d begin answering this question with a very broad statement. Obama came into office in 2008 as a person promising to work in a bipartisan fashion, with both Democrats and Republicans. And in his first administration he certainly offered some policies which he thought would create cooperation with his political opponents.

Many of those policies were on the migration side. He did enhance border security, and he increased the numbers of border agents, especially on the southern Mexican border. He increased the rates of detention and deportation of undocumented people and he did not make any truly significant increases in the number of refugees admitted to the US. He didn’t do what Justin Trudeau did in Canada, with his pledge to take in large numbers of refugees: Obama continued the rate of refugee relocation to the United States that had been typical in the Bush and the Clinton administrations.

There were no dramatic changes, much to the disappointment of voters like me, who expected and sought a more generous and less punitive immigration policy. I believe Obama made a calculated effort to build bipartisanship by offering the kinds of border protections and deportations his political opponents said they wanted. He hoped this would advance the cause of bi-partisan immigration reform. His calculation failed. And when it failed, Obama did not change his policies. He didn’t say, well, this is getting me no support from my rivals, so I’m going to do what I think is right and what my voters wanted me to do. He just continued with the deportations.

I believe Obama made a calculated effort to build bipartisanship by offering the kinds of border protections and deportations his political opponents said they wanted.

In one respect Obama’s administration created the foundation for deportation on a mass scale. That’s not the same thing as a discriminatory ban, of course. Still, Obama deported 3.5 million people – about 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year. My own sense is that he deported most of the so-called criminal undocumented that Trump now claims to want to deport. It’s not surprising that the Trump administration almost immediately expanded the definition of “criminal” undocumented immigrants to include anyone, basically, who is undocumented. That’s the only way his agents have any hope of finding the criminals they claim to want to deport.

In one respect Obama’s administration created the foundation for deportation on a mass scale. 

I believe you will continue to see the current White House insisting that it’s not doing anything about migration that Obama didn’t do – that it’s merely continuing to regularise and normalise Obama’s migration policies. That’s untrue. Obama has already spoken out against such claims. He has said, approximately, well we did this one thing but you’re now doing 11 more things. I expect he’ll continue to say that.

Citizens who were perhaps disappointed in Obama did not take to the streets; they are now willing to do so to protest Trump’s policies. And I think that’s likely to continue. If the Trump administration creates a Muslim registry, or initiates mass deportations, my guess is the level of street activism and mass civil disobedience is going to increase. 

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