image: Nigel Farage at Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015
On June 23rd the Brits took a vote that rocked the European Union and the world, deciding there is such a thing as too much togetherness. One of the thorniest issues that drove the Brexit vote, and the decision for Britain to ultimately leave the EU, was immigration. Now the former leader of the Yes camp of the Brexit vote, Nigel Farage, is saying that the movement behind Donald Trump is driven by similar anti-immigrant feelings in the U.S.
Farage complained during the run-up to Britain's vote in June that there were neighborhoods in England where people didn’t speak English anymore and the British quality of life was deteriorating due to mass immigration. Prior to the Brexit vote the EU Parliament dictated immigration policy for its member countries, establishing quotas for the number of Syrian refugees each state must accept. In disputes EU courts would frequently rule against countries being forced to act as reluctant hosts.
While the U.S. doesn’t have a supranational government telling us how many refugees we have to take in, immigration is still a thorny issue. Whether you call them nativists or the Alt-Right, there is a thick vein of anti-immigrant feeling flowing through some portions of the American electorate. In July, 2014 a group of anti-immigrant protesters stopped three buses loaded with kids, many fleeing to this country to escape exploitation and violence, on the way to a processing center. The crowd of 200-300 people, including whole families, were willing to terrify a bus load of kids to make their point.
Strangely the push-back against immigrants comes at a time when unemployment is reaching lows we haven’t seen in decades. It seems ironic that at least a few of those people protesting against immigrants in California had to take off work to attend the rally. The number of nativist groups swelled in the wake of the Great Recession to 319 but, as employment ticked up, the number of groups gradually diminished to just thirty-three now.
All the same the anti-immigrant message has struck a nerve on the campaign trail. Trump’s vow to build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it is certainly one of the reasons he survived the winnowing of the GOP candidate field.
Recently Nigel Farage joined Trump on the campaign trail at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, where he pointed out the similarities between the message of the Trump campaign and that driving the Brexit vote. Blending nationalism with immigration reform, Farage called Trump’s candidacy a “fantastic opportunity” to “stand up to the establishment.” Farage also pointed out how the Yes camp on the Brexit vote managed to beat the polls, which had the Stay camp ahead in all but a few samples, and insisted immigration reform was the core message behind the British vote to leave the EU.
The tricky part may be nailing down exactly what Donald Trump’s immigration plan really is. Aside from the wall, he has talked over himself on the issue of a deportation force to hunt down the millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Some of the people who came here illegally decades ago have paid U.S. taxes for years and have raised families here who have never lived anywhere else. Who we deport and under what circumstances will be wildly difficult to enforce with any consistency.
Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, in an interview on CNN said the current rhetoric on immigration is as heated as it’s been in any presidential election. Just how angry the American public is on the subject of immigration will ultimately be decided in November.