Immigration angst

Do not mistake Trump's motives on immigration

In the US, splitting children from adults at the border with Mexico has unleashed a huge outcry - while spawning heated debate on the country's immigration policy. In Germany, Angela Merkel's let-them-in policy of 2015 has come back to roost, threatening her position.

Large countries nurse an insecurity of their own. Their size promises power but their endless borders gift the outside world opportunities for incursion. The resulting spirit - half-brash, half-fearful - marks the politics of Australia, Russia and, most vividly right now, the United States. Its southern frontier is the nearest thing to geographic bad luck in a land otherwise screened from the world's troubles by oceanic distance.

It is this deep-set fear that drives a government to prise illegal immigrants from their blameless offspring. None of the merely political motives attributed to President Donald Trump add up. As a campaign theme for November's mid-term elections, immigration distracts from the Republicans' preferred focus on the strong economy. Footage of confused children in foil bed sheets has roused the distaste of most voters. If this was a Beltway ruse to force Democrats to give Mr Trump his wall on the Mexican border, then it was a ruse that Republican legislators - such as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham - were not in on.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2018, with the headline 'Do not mistake Trump's motives on immigration'. Subscribe