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Trump and Immigration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Grant E. Rissler
January 27, 2017

President Donald Trump voiced controversial immigration proposals during the 2016 presidential campaign but with few specifics. A comparison of Trump’s state margin of victory and the foreign born population in those states shows excepting Texas and Florida, his support came mostly in states with low foreign born populations.   

Immigration was a hot button issue for President Donald Trump in his campaign to win the electoral college and the U.S. Presidency (while losing the popular vote by a margin of 2.8 million votes). Among the headline grabbing proposals (unless otherwise linked proposals quoted below are from Trump’s campaign website):

Such proposals often came with few specifics about how they would be implemented. Those hoping for more detailed information on day one of the new administration were likely disappointed if they checked the transitioned White House website.

Immigration 1

A day after taking the reins of government, there were only five hits for the word immigration on the site — three  hits in the summary of presidential history, one in the description of Executive Branch responsibilities and this passage from the issue page Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community:

President Trump is committed to building a border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities. He is dedicated to enforcing our border laws, ending sanctuary cities, and stemming the tide of lawlessness associated with illegal immigration.

Supporting law enforcement also means deporting illegal aliens with violent criminal records who have remained within our borders.

During the campaign, some observers argued “anti-immigrant” rhetoric was key to Trump’s victory in the Republican primary but expected his controversial positions to be a liability during the general election. Believing immigration was a key issue for Latinos, many expected Trump to be repudiated by a record number of Latino voters. However, election day exit polls confounded this view to some extent, estimating Trump garnered the support of 28 percent of Latinos, which is slightly better than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Less remarked on in post-election analysis was that Trump also garnered an estimated 31 percent of the votes from the 9 percent of the electorate who were not born a U.S. citizen, compared to the 64 percent for Clinton.

Per the same exit polls, Trump carried 64 percent of the votes from people who said the most important issue facing the country was immigration. Some media coverage suggested that this support was largely due to whites being uncomfortable with the changes associated with greater diversity driven by an influx of Latinos in their local communities.

Were states with the highest percentages of foreign born residents among those which supported Trump’s Electoral College victory, or were areas with relatively little immigration central to Trump’s victory?

The data mapping below shows, on the left side, the percent margin of victory for either Trump (red) or Clinton (blue), as well as the size of the advantage for one candidate or the other in each state in terms of actual number of votes. On the right side is mapped the percentage of the foreign born population (based on 2014 five year census estimates) and the percentage of the population that is undocumented (based on a combination of the 2014 census and a Migration Policy Institute estimate of unauthorized immigrant population). To view the interactive version of these maps on Tableau Public, click here.

Immigration 2

In general, this admittedly limited analysis yields mixed, but still interesting results. Clearly, much of Clinton’s popular vote advantage derived from California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, all of which have some of the highest portions of their population being foreign born. Meanwhile, areas with the strongest margin of support for Trump (Wyoming, West Virginia, the Dakotas) were among those with the lowest foreign born population in percentage terms. This would seem to support the idea indirect exposure to immigration issues was likely more important than face-to-face encounters with immigrants themselves.

On the other hand, both Texas and Florida voted for Trump. Both states also have high percentages of the population who are foreign born.

The unauthorized population estimates show similar mixed results — the state with the highest portion of unauthorized population (California at 7.9 percent) was the strongest in terms of support for Clinton. But Texas (with an estimated 5.6 percent of the population unauthorized) supported Trump.

No doubt more refined analysis will be possible in the years ahead as researchers dig into the details of 2016 election surveys. Regardless of how Trump won election, the specifics of Trump immigration-related policies will now become an important focus of immigrant communities and public administrators. The significant impact such policy shifts will have on local, state and national law enforcement is the topic for my next column.

Author: Grant Rissler is a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  A former immigration paralegal, his current research focus is local government responsiveness to immigrants.  He also serves as Asst. Director for Programs for the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at VCU.  Grant can be reached at [email protected].  

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