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"Brexit" vote alarms immigrant rights groups in U.S.

Trump hails U.K. decision to leave the European Union as a vote "to reassert control over their own politics, border and economy." U.S. voters can do the same in November, he says.
Univision News Logo
24 Jun 2016 – 01:02 PM EDT
Donald Trump on a visit to Scotland hailed Britain's vote to leave the European Union Crédito: Getty Images

Donald Trump wasted no time Friday in claiming that Britain’s stunning vote to leave the European Union was a boost to his presidential campaign by reinforcing the popularity of stronger borders.

"They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!" Trump tweeted early Friday.

Pro-immigration activists were forced to agree that the decision signals Trump's stance on immigration is widely held.

The so-called “Brexit” referendum vote was a double whammy for critics of Trump’s immigration platform, coming only a day after the U.S. Supreme Court decision not to back president Barack Obama’s executive actions in favor of undocumented immigrants.

“It feels like we are regressing,” said Gaby Pacheco, 31, a Miami-based immigrant rights leader who was born in Ecuador and came to the United States when she was eight.

“When are we going to hit the bottom?” she added, noting how the outlook for immigrants had seemed favorable in 2014 after Obama signed two deportation relief programs that would benefit roughly 5 million immigrants.

“It’s really terrifying to see how much ground we are losing and how the nationalists and xenophobic rhetoric is gaining ground,” she told Univision News.

On Thursday the Supreme Court upheld an injunction blocking the two programs, known as DACA and DAPA, that provide protection from deportation and allow immigrants to work legally.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said in a statement on Facebook that the British people had "taken back their independence" with Thursday’s referendum vote, that favored the U.K.'s exit from the E.U. by a 52% to 48% margin.

Trump later spoke to reporters in Scotland where he is visiting two of his recently acquired golf courses.

He drew parallels between the U.K. vote and the U.S. presidential campaign, saying people in both countries want to take their borders back. The decision of the British people to get out of the European Union was a vote "to reassert control over their own politics, border and economy," he wrote on Facebook.

Trump added that in November "the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence."

The British vote was marked by intense debate on some of the populist themes driving the Trump campaign, such as concerns about immigration and border security, with those supporting the "leave" campaign highlighting concern over the E.U.'s inability to contain a wave of Middle Eastern refugees spilling into Europe, mostly from war-torn Iraq and Syria. More than one million refugees fled to Europe by sea in 2015, with hundreds of thousands more this year.

"It's important to understand whether it's Brits or Americans, people are worried," said Ali Noorani, director of the National Immigration Forum, a leading immigration advocacy group in Washington. "Every time they turn on the TV they see people coming into their country. Donald Trump has clearly tapped into that fear and anvxiety," he added.

Trump's brief visit to Scotland could not have been better timed coming only hours after the referendum results were declared.

Ironically, Scotland was one of the areas that voted most in favor of Britain remaining in Europe, by 62% to 38%.

Pacheco and others are concerned that Trump’s populism, bolstered by the backlash against immigration in the U.K., could sap the energy from the Hispanic pro-immigration movement, especially among younger voters who are seen as crucial to defeating Trump. “We are stronger when positive things happen. Unfortunately, this type of negativity in our community creates fear, and when that happens fear paralyzes you,” she said.

The vote in Britain and the popular appeal of strong borders also provides other warning signals for Hispanics - and the Democratic Party - over voter turnout, as well as economic factors that could play into the U.S. election. Turnout in areas with the highest share of older voters saw the highest turnout. While Scotland had the strongest "Remain" vote, it had almost the lowest turnout.

Results revealed a generational and social divide, with younger and higher-educated voters appearing to strongly oppose Brexit. White voters voted to leave the E.U. by 53% to 47%. Two thirds (67%) of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain, as did three quarters (73%) of black voters. Nearly six in ten (58%) of those describing themselves as Christian voted to leave.

Nearly three quarters (73%) of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to remain in Europe, while a majority of those aged over 45 voted to leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65 or over.

A majority (57%) of those with a university degree voted to remain. Among those whose formal education ended at secondary school or earlier, a large majority voted to leave.

Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the E.U. was “the principle that decisions about the U.K. should be taken in the U.K.,” echoing Trump’s “make America great again,” campaign slogan.

Trump’s strong support for Brexit was a gamble however, as financial markets tumbled on Friday and Europe appears headed for a period of political uncertainty and turmoil.

The presumptive nominee for the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton, said in a statement Friday that economic uncertainty sparked by the Britain's choice to leave the European Union "underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House."

Clinton, like Obama, had spoken out in favor of Britain staying in Europe. While she said Friday she respects the choice of British voters, she said the vote "underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down."

Noorani said he remained optimistic that greater youth and diversity in the United States, with a large African-American, Asian, as well as Latino population, would limit the appeal of nationalist politicians. "The American experiment will endure. The electorate has a very clear choice: should 11 million (undocumented) people be deported or should they have a rational, humane way forward?"