Why would immigrants vote for Trump?

Ronan Marron 10 November 2016

One of the most shocking things about Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race is that even after all his talk of Mexican rapists and building a wall to prevent further migration, he managed to increase Republican share of the Hispanic vote to 29% (compared to Mitt Romney’s 27%). A number of people seem to find this quite puzzling. However, as a first generation immigrant, I am not surprised at all.

Some of the most vicious anti-immigration rhetoric I have ever heard came from other immigrants. I believe that the very process of migrating can develop a very specific mentality, which can result in disliking others in your position. Immigration is very hard. Most migrants have to overcome an array of hurdles, from visa issues and legal discrimination to becoming a part of a different culture. Immigration often seems like climbing a ladder: you try to climb up, to stability, others climb next to you, making the ladder swing menacingly, and those on the top shake it up from time to time, and you either see your fellow climbers plunge down wildlings-on-the-wall style, or learn to ‘believe you can fly’ yourself.  It feels so unfair to have to go through all of it, be it hiding in basements and working unsociable hours in kebab shops or being legally discriminated against when you’re trying to find a graduate job. As an immigrant, you never have the same rights and freedoms those around you have. And, as you are not safe and stable yet, you cannot really take it out on the people with the power to throw you away. The easiest thing to do is to target other vulnerable and unprotected people. The moment you are on top, or at least on top of someone else, many people’s reaction is to kick the ladder off.

It always seems like others have it easier than you. If you did everything legally and paid all the exuberant visa and tuitions fees or had to prove your skills to be invaluable to the economy, you are likely to be angry at your compatriots who might have overstayed their weekly English course visas and now are sending whatever little they have back home. If you had to play by the rules, why don’t they? I cannot even imagine how it feels to be on the other side of this divide – knowing that you don’t and will never have enough money for a student visa, let alone the student fees, and having to clean those students’ plates and bathrooms, when you might be as educated or bright as they are. And all these people are in direct competition with each other. The more immigrants there are, the more anti-immigration feelings flourish. From an immigrant’s perspective, all the newcomers are a direct threat, as they make tightening of the rules or xenophobic attacks more likely.

I’ve seen foreign-born people hail the accession of Theresa May from the safety of their precious permanent settlement permits – if they had to work this hard, they wanted to protect their gains. I’ve seen people from a particular country cynically discuss all the shady and illegal jobs people from the same country take and thus ‘tarnish’ the reputation of this particular ethnicity. I’ve seen people sneer at immigrants from other countries and use uncompromisingly racist language against them, just to prove, to themselves and to those around them, that they are the right, the acceptable kind of immigrant. Ultimately, all of this comes from fear – fear for your position, for the safety and stability of your everyday existence.

Anti-immigration rhetoric among immigrants is something liberal locals tend to shy away from – the topic is considered too sensitive to approach. For many people, whether they believe it or not, it is much easier to project their own perceptions of what an immigrant, a homogenised vulnerable member of an increasingly persecuted minority, would and should think, rather than actually listen to what the very people they claim to want to protect have to say about it all.

Being an anti-immigration immigrant can seem to be entirely counter intuitive. It goes against the very concept of your existence and may actually be difficult to understand for those who never had to go through it. Although I don’t share those views myself, I have heard them enough times to relate exactly to what they are based on.