Immigration remains tops for Trump nearly a decade after his ‘build the wall’ campaign

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Former President Donald Trump’s doubling down on his anti-immigration political roots is resonating with GOP primary voters in the face of record-breaking border encounters.

“I’ll seal the border, and we’ll shut down the invasion of our country … that’s the first thing,” Trump said Monday night in Laconia, New Hampshire, adding he’d deploy the “largest deportation program in American history. We have no choice.”

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary that could knock out his final competitor, Trump is campaigning as the candidate who can restore law and order to the border on day one in office and reverse President Joe Biden‘s policies that made the United States a “dumping ground.”

Trump rose to prominence in 2015 on a promise to build a wall along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it. Nine years later, immigration remains his calling card.

“It’s the most driving issue with voters,” New Hampshire-based Republican strategist David Carney said. “They’re seeing what’s happening at the border, the total lawlessness at the border. Biden, by his own executive orders, tore down the policies that were in place to protect America on his first day in office.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaking during a campaign event in Rochester, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

In Rochester a day earlier, Trump drew approving shouts and applause after nearly everything he said during his rally there. But nothing drew more praise than his comments on immigration.

“People are coming in from all parts of the world, speaking languages that people have never even heard of and that are being dumped into our country,” Trump said at the Sunday event. “They’re coming in from mental institutions. They’re coming in from jails and prisons. They’re terrorists, and they’re coming in at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.”

He promised to end “every open border policy” on his first day in office and said former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley “fought me on the border wall” while condemning his border policies.

Each time Trump mentioned securing the border or slammed Biden’s handling of the issue, the crowd packed into the tiny Rochester Opera House erupted, coming to its collective feet more than once.

Attendees who spoke to the Washington Examiner ahead of the rally said immigration was one of their top concerns.

“People over in other countries, those are other countries,” one told the Washington Examiner before Trump spoke. “They should be able to deal with themselves, not with us. We should be able to take care of our own first and get ourselves set up so we’re strong. Then we can help people. You can’t help people if you’re weak.”

Before Biden took office, the record-high number of border apprehensions was 1.64 million, set in fiscal 2000. That total has been surprised each year Biden has been in office, with 1.66 million apprehensions in fiscal 2021 (which began with Trump still in office), 2.2 million in 2022, and 2 million in 2023.

Biden’s approval rating on immigration is 31.5%, making it his lowest-rated issue. The president is working with Republicans in Congress on a national security bill that could see stepped-up enforcement tied to funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Speaking to a group of mayors last week, Biden said he supports “massive changes” in border policy, though it may be too late to change perceptions with less than a year to go in his first term.

Trump is also attacking Haley, his last remaining primary opponent, over the issue. He labeled her “pro-amnesty” at the Rochester rally, and his campaign has released an ad saying she doesn’t support a border wall.

Drug traffickers. Rapists. Poisoning our country. But Nikki Haley refused to call illegals “criminals. ” Illegals are criminals, Nikki. That’s what illegal means.

— MAGA War Room (@MAGAIncWarRoom) January 8, 2024

Haley denies the allegations.

​​“When I was governor, we passed one … of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country,” she said, touting a law that was passed when she was governor that requires proof of U.S. citizenship for a person caught committing a crime or pulled over in a car by law enforcement.

The Department of Justice sued the state over the law. 


Kari Lake, a former Arizona gubernatorial candidate with close ties to Trump, spoke to the Washington Examiner on Sunday and agreed illegal immigration will remain a top priority at both the state and federal levels.

“My border plan when I ran for governor was the strongest, most bold, aggressive border plan this country has ever seen,” she said. “The states have the right to take control of the border, and so we need to do that. But I do know when we get President Trump in the White House, we’re going to secure that border starting on day one.”