Amid protests, ban draws support from Trump base

A protester faces off with a supporter of US President Donald Trump during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by President Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan 29, 2017.
A protester faces off with a supporter of US President Donald Trump during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by President Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan 29, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • Mr Sal Oliva, a hotel worker from Staten Island in New York, is ecstatic about United States President Donald Trump's executive order. So is Mr Michael Bower, owner of a Seattle home alarm firm.

Mr Trump's immigration policy may be setting off protests around the US and raising eyebrows and objections among allies abroad. But at home, a large portion of the electorate is behind him. For all the outrage the order has stirred, including among some Republicans, two recent polls found that a plurality of Americans support some type of suspension of immigration.

Mr Trump's supporters say the promise of tougher immigration policies is one of the main reasons they voted for him.

"I was so happy," said Mr Oliva, 32. He is gay, and said he was deeply affected by the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida by an American of Afghan descent. "That one really got to me. That could have been me."

Mr Trump has tapped into a deep anxiety that is a relatively recent feature of modern US politics: Terrorism from abroad.

His detractors argue that his actions are not borne out by facts. Since Sept 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States by an immigrant - or the son or daughter of an immigrant - from any of the seven countries in the 90-day visa ban he has just ordered.

A vast majority of killings overall happened at the hands of native-born Americans. Some recent attacks in which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was invoked were carried out by Muslims born in the US.

But emotions are powerful forces, and much of what people know comes from smartphone and tablet screens showing a stream of news of terrorist attacks that feel threatening even if they are far away.

"I don't begrudge my peograndma, who has never met a Muslim in her life but all she sees on TV are Muslims blowing things up," said Mr Bower. "It is not irrational that people are worried."

Each person sees the policy through the lens of personal experience. For Mr Bower, 35, it evokes his stepsister, whose husband works in Manhattan and was there during the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. Even now, Mr Bower said, she is scared every day her husband goes to work.

Mr Bower said he voted for Mr Trump largely to avoid voting for Mrs Hillary Clinton. He said that although he would not support Mr Trump unconditionally, the immigration order did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that by a ratio of 48 per cent to 42 per cent, voters supported "suspending immigration from 'terror prone' regions, even if it means turning away refugees from those regions".

And a December Politico/Har- vard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found that 50 per cent of Americans favoured "banning future immigration from regions where there are active terrorist groups".

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Amid protests, ban draws support from Trump base'. Print Edition | Subscribe