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Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Creates Fear For Some, Bolsters Support For Others

In Zero Tolerance, FRONTLINE examines how President Donald Trump turned immigration into a powerful political weapon that fueled division and violence.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner
This image is of President Donald Trump visiting the U.S.-Mexico Border in Otay Mesa, California, on September 18, 2019. Courtesy of FRONTLINE.

Immigration reform has become a political weapon in contemporary American politics over the last six years. Controversial policies such as zero tolerance and — most recently — the third-country asylum rule have helped create a deep political divide throughout the country.

What role has the history of xenophobia played in the U.S. to exploit people who are undocumented? How has nationalism shaped modern politics?

Espousing populist beliefs has pushed for new shifts in leadership for governments around the world. In the FRONTLINE documentary “Zero Tolerance,” filmmaker Michael Kirk showcases the forces behind the current conservative movement that has created today’s political climate under the Trump administration.

While immigration is present of mind today, xenophobia is not a new occurrence. In her research, Erika Lee traces fear and hatred of immigrants back to the nation’s beginnings in the colonial era.

What is the future of public policy concerning immigration? How have migrants been affected by recent policy changes?

What other historic American political figures have used immigration fears to gain political support? As a nation of immigrants, what does this rhetoric and these policies imply about American culture?

FRONTLINE's "Zero Tolerance" airs Tuesday, October 22 at 10/9c on PBS and online at pbs.org/frontline


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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, October 22.

Jan Ross Piedad Sakian is TPR’s News Operations Producer. In this role, she develops strategy on collaborative and digital initiatives for the station. Since 2016, Jan Ross has served in a coordinating capacity for TPR’s state and national partners, including The Texas Newsroom.