The Dark Plight of Immigrants in the Racist Era of Trump

By Alvaro Huerta

This essay argues that President Donald J. Trump represents an existential threat to immigrants in the United States. Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies consist of racist, xenophobic, enforcement-only and divisive positions. This includes his racist and belligerent isolationist and unilateralist policies. Trump aims to re-invent the country’s dark past with his racist slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

 

President Donald J. Trump represents an existential threat to immigrants in the United States. More specifically, Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies consist of racist, xenophobic, enforcement-only and divisive (i.e., “us-versus-them”) positions. Moreover, Trump’s domestic positions on immigration interconnect with his foreign diplomacy based on isolationist and unilateralist policies. While former U.S. presidents espoused (and implemented) similar anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882[1] and the internment of an estimated 120,000 individuals of Japanese heritage (both immigrants and citizens) during WW II,[2] Trump, during his presidency, aims to re-imagine and re-invent the country’s dark past with his racist slogan, “Make America Great Again” – which Trump originally claimed he coined; yet, Trump actually stole from the late President Ronald Reagan.[3]

Americans and people around the world shouldn’t be surprised by Trump’s current xenophobic (or anti-immigrant) rhetoric and policies, however. On June 16, 2015, for instance, when he delivered his “famous” presidential announcement speech (or “infamous,” depending on your political affiliation), Trump launched into a diatribe against Mexicans: “…When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people…”[4][5]

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Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies consist of racist, xenophobic, enforcement-only and divisive positions. Moreover, Trump’s domestic positions on immigration interconnect with his foreign diplomacy based on isolationist and unilateralist policies.

In this racist speech, Trump clearly connected with a significant segment of the American electorate receptive to white nativism or white nationalism. UCLA History Professor Juan Gómez-Quiñones, in his brilliant essay, “La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism – A Paradigm,” posits that “U.S. anti-Mexicanism is a race premised set of historical and contemporary ascriptions, convictions and discriminatory practices inflicted on persons of Mexican descent, longstanding and pervasive in the United States…Anti-Mexicanism is a form of nativism practiced by colonialists and their inheritors…”[6]

While the dark history against African Americans is highly documented and well known, such as slavery, Jim Crow and police abuse, public knowledge of racist policies (historical and contemporary) against individuals of Mexican heritage (immigrants and citizens) is desperately lacking. For example, apart from the imperialist U.S. war against Mexico (1846 – 1848) – where Mexico lost half of its territory – throughout 1800s and 1900s, the U.S. government launched racist campaigns and policies towards Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans (or Chicanos). Among many other draconian/inhumane cases, this included mass deportation campaigns of this racialised group, such as the “Mexican Repatriation” in the 1930s and “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s. In their insightful book, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, Dr. Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez argue that an estimated one million individuals of Mexican heritage were deported, where an estimated 60 percent consisted of U.S. citizens.[7] In terms of “Operation Wetback,” then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the deportation of over one million individuals of Mexican heritage.[8]

In the tradition of Eisenhower, during his presidential campaign, Trump praised “Operation Wetback.”[9] By doing so, then-candidate Trump sent a clear signal to his white nativist base, whereby his immigration policies focused (to the present) on enforcement-only measures, like mass deportations of mostly brown immigrants. The underlying premise of Trump’s mass deportation fantasies (of the past) and policies (of the present) center on the eugenics ideology (a pseudoscience) and movement of the late-1800s to the present. Coined by Francis Galton, generally speaking, it’s based on the premise that to “advance” the human “race,” individuals with “good” traits/genes or “desirable” traits/genes should reproduce with each other.

Be it Mexican immigrants, Muslim Americans or black athletes, for his white nativist base, Trump represents the next “great-white-hope” to protect white Americans against the so-called brown and black “barbarians.”

Throughout history, the eugenics ideology has been used by racist individuals and groups, like Nazi leaders in Germany, to claim that one “race” or group is genetically superior than another “race” or group. Prior to the rise of Nazism, however, white Americans used this pseudoscience to argue that they were superior compared to racialised groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans. For instance, as a way to justify racist policies towards African Americans throughout the late-1800s and mid-1900s, like residential segregation and whites-only spaces (public and private), white American leaders and average white citizens claimed (to the present) that whites were superior to blacks.

In his op-ed on the plight of undocumented youth, award-winning writer Michael D’Antonio connects Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides temporary deportation relief and work permits for qualified undocumented youth, to eugenics: “There is another distinction that sets Dreamers apart, of course: Most of them are from Mexico, and they are not white. Trump’s move to end DACA, therefore, must be understood within the historical context of America’s exclusionary immigration policies, the bulk of which have relied on the pseudoscience of eugenics.” [10]

In terms of being a divisive leader, Trump has played his “us-versus-them” card throughout his presidential campaign to the present. Be it Mexican immigrants, Muslim Americans or black athletes (e.g., black athletes in the National Football League who refuse to stand for the American flag due to police abuse), for his white nativist base, Trump represents the next “great-white-hope” to protect white Americans against the so-called brown and black “barbarians.” Under this context, Trump’s fetish or fantasy for a southern border wall, which Mexico will miraculously “pay for,”[11] makes absolute sense. Instead of focussing on bridges that unite us, for instance, Trump has been focusing on walls that divide us – and don’t work, according to Dr. Michael Dear[12] – allowing him (with the support of his xenophobic base) to become one of the most powerful men in the world.

Thus, while Trump has solidified his racist credentials, there’s no denying the large share of American supporters (e.g., almost 63 million voted for him against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 7, 2017)[13] who bought/buy his racist message. For example, of the millions of Trump supporters, how many abandoned him when he reportedly disparaged immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries during a White House-led meeting (January 11, 2018)?: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”[14] To remove any doubt of his racist credentials, at this same meeting, Trump inquired about bringing more immigrants from countries like Norway.  

By examining Trump’s domestic immigration policies based on his racist, xenophobic, enforcement-only and divisive positions, we can better understand or examine his foreign positions based on isolationist and unilateralist policies. This includes negative, foreign diplomatic relationships or implications with so-called friendly nations. For instance, while Trump insists on building his border wall, where the tax payers will pay for it (not Mexico), what incentives does Mexico (as a so-called friendly nation) have to cooperate or trade with the United States, especially when other options arise in the future with other superpowers, like China? While Mexico’s ruling political party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI, caves to Trump, there’s no guarantee that if a progressive party wins the presidential election on July 1, 2018, Mexico continue to capitulate.

Unless Trump gets impeached and his entire administration resigns, including the equally dangerous Vice President Mike Pence, a significant segment of the world, especially the historically marginalised and oppressed, will continue to perceive Americans in a singular gaze: “The Ugly American.”

In short, while the U.S. remains a superpower with asymmetric foreign relations throughout world, its leaders – Trump and the morally complicit Republican Party – and citizens must decide if they want to use their enormous military and financial power either for good or bad? Unless Trump gets impeached and his entire administration resigns, including the equally dangerous Vice President Mike Pence, a significant segment of the world, especially the historically marginalised and oppressed, will continue to perceive Americans in a singular gaze: “The Ugly American.”  

Image source: https://trofire.com/2016/01/22/trump-literally-just-retweeted-a-white-supremacist/

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About the Author

Dr Huerta is Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Ethnic and Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm (San Diego State University Press, 2013). He holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and a B.A. and an M.A. from UCLA.

References

[1] “Chinese Exclusion Act (1882).” Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. Accessed on February 1, 2018. Online: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/exclusion.html

[2] Frail, Tom. “The Injustice of Japanese-American Internment Camps Resonates Strongly to This Day,” Smithsonian magazine (January 2017). Accessed on February 2, 2018. Online: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/injustice-japanese-americans-internment-camps-resonates-strongly-180961422/

[3] Margolin, Emma. “‘Make America Great Again’–Who Said It First?” NBC News (September 9, 2016). Accessed on February 1, 2018. Online: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/make-america-great-again-who-said-it-first-n645716

[4] Staff, “Full text: Donald Trump announces a presidential bid,” Washington Post (June 16, 2015). Accessed February 2, 2018. Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/06/16/full-text-donald-trump-announces-a-presidential-bid/?utm_term=.56b516e5af3a

[5] Huerta, Alvaro, “Trump’s anti-immigrant comments help Democrats,” The Gulf Today (July 18, 2015). Accessed on February 3, 2018. Online: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/9f29dd13-63c6-4798-924c-90f3fc626b51.aspx

[6] Gómez-Quiñones, Juan. “La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism – A Paradigm,” HuffPost (January 25, 2017). Accessed on February 8, 2018. Online: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/guest-essay-la-realidad-the-realities-of-anti-mexicanism_us_5882f84ce4b0111ea60b9658

[7] Balderrama, Francisco E. and Raymond Rodríguez. Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

[8] Grossman, Roger, “The 1954 deportation of Mexican migrants and the ‘wetback airlift’ in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune. (March 4, 2017). Accessed February 8, 2018.

Online: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-flash-deportation-migrant-mexican-0305-20170303-story.html

[9] Martinez, Jack. “Republican Democrats Debate Immigration as Trump Praises Eisenhower’s ‘Operation Wetback,’” Newsweek (November 10, 2015). Accessed on February 9, 2018.

Online: http://www.newsweek.com/candidates-immigration-debate-392730

[10] D’Antonio, Michael, “Trump’s Move to End DACA has Roots in America’s Long, Shameful History of Eugenics,” Los Angeles Times (September 14, 2017). Accessed on February 9, 2018.

Online: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-antonio-trump-eugenics-daca-20170914-story.html

[11] Huerta, Alvaro. “No Deal on “S—hole’ Border Wall!,” ImmigrationProfBlog (January 25, 2018). Accessed on February 10, 2018.

Online: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/immigration/2018/01/alvaro-huerta-.html

[12] Dear, Michael. Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide, 2003. Oxford University Press, 2013.

[13] “Presidential Results.” CNN Politics. Accessed February 10, 2018.

Online: http://www.cnn.com/election/2016/results/president

[14] Dawsey, Josh. “Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries,” The Washington Post (January 12, 2018). Accessed February 10, 2018.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-attacks-protections-for-immigrants-from-shithole-countries-in-oval-office-meeting/2018/01/11/bfc0725c-f711-11e7-91af-31ac729add94_story.html?utm_term=.07d3f07a4116