Ask Mei

Trump’s wall of Chinese supporters

Takeaways from a survey of Chinese in America

“Build it, and they won’t come...”

As the US federal government suffers the longest shutdown in its history, I did a survey among my Chinese friends on their views on the reason for the current stalemate: Trump’s Wall.

My survey’s targets were first-generation immigrants who grew up in mainland China but spent years studying, working and living in America (most of them are now US passport holders).

I asked them to choose one from the following three options: 1. Support for Trump’s immigration policy (of stopping illegal immigration and limiting legal immigration) and supporting the Wall 2. Support for Trump’s immigration policy but opposing the Wall; 3. Opposing both Trump’s immigration policy and his Wall.

Among the 20 replies from my friends, 70% chose the first option, 5% chose the second and 25% chose the third.

You may wonder if this is because we Chinese inherently like the idea of building walls. The answer is “maybe” but the main reason behind their responses is the same as my last poll, taken at the height of the 2016 US presidential election.

In that survey (see WiC343), three quarters of respondents preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton as president. The reasons I cited then included that we Chinese are culturally more conservative-leaning on social and economic issues, plus that many first-generation Chinese immigrants see affirmative action and illegal immigration as “unfairly” benefiting African Americans and Hispanics at the expense of “hardworking” and “law-abiding” Asians.

Later I found out that these issues had energised many first-time Chinese voters in the election to cast their ballots for Trump.

This time around I only focused on immigration and the most passionate replies included: “I originally wasn’t supportive of the Wall but after seeing thousands of shameless ‘refugees’ charging toward the US border, I’m now worried that the Wall is not tall enough and its foundation not deep enough.” Or this response: “Illegal immigrants used to feel guilty or embarrassed [for breaking the law] but the caravan riders today are so high-profile and self-righteous that they demand nice treatment, hence thumbing their nose at us legal immigrants who play by the rules [by queuing up for their turns].”

A retired university professor replied: “I went to study in the US in the 1980s and I think Trump is just being pragmatic by choosing useful legal immigrants over useless and illegal ones.”

Another replied: “The liberal media seems incapable of distinguishing legal immigration and illegal immigration.”

I usually side with the liberal group on most economic and social issues, but immigration is one of the few issues where I can’t make up my mind. I understand both sides’ arguments but I believe both are exaggerating their own views and being blind to the other’s concerns. Of course, immigration is a complex issue with multiple economic, social and cultural implications. However, I have begun to conclude that if the Democrats cannot come up with a coherent and convincing policy argument on illegal immigration – to counter Trump – they will likely lose the bid for the White House in 2020.

 

A native Chinese who grew up in northeastern China, Mei attended an elite university in Beijing in the late 1980s and graduate school in the US in the early 1990s. Over two decades she has worked in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, both in the media and with two global investment banks, where she has honed her bicultural perspective. If you’d like to ask her a question, send her an email at askmei@weekinchina.com


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