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Latina/o Immigrants in the Racist Era of Trump

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

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 (i.e., “us-versus-them”) political 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 1882and the internment of an estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and citizens during WW II, Trump, during his short presidency, aims to re-imagine or re-invent the country’s dark past with his racist slogan, “Make America Great Again”—which Trump originally claimed he coined. However, Trump actually stole it from the late President Ronald Reagan.

The “Hustler-in-Chief” lies so much, it must be difficult for him—along with his lackey apologists and fellow liars, like John F. Kelly, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, etc.—to keep track of all his lies. I just hope that the brave comedian Michelle Wolf returns to the White House Correspondent’s dinner, so she can ridicule and rip into Kelly and Giuliani in same manner she exposed Sander’s infinite lies at this year’s memorable event.

Americans and people around the world shouldn’t be surprised by Trump’s lies, xenophobic (or anti-immigrant) rhetoric and policies. 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…”

In this racist speech with his immigrant wife by his side, Trump clearly connected with a significant segment of the American electorate receptive to anti-Mexicanism. In his brilliant essay,La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism—A Paradigm” (HuffPost, January 25, 2017), UCLA History Professor Juan Gómez-Quiñones 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…”

While the dark history of racism 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, in addition to the imperialist U.S. war against Mexico during the mid-1800s (1846-1848)—where Mexico lost half of its territory—the U.S. government has implemented (to the present) racist campaigns and policies towards Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans (or Chicanas/os).

As part of the many draconian and inhumane cases against Mexicans in el norte during the 1900s, this included mass deportation campaigns of this racialized group, such as the “Mexican Repatriation” during the 1930s and “Operation Wetback” during the 1950s. In their insightful book, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, Dr. Francisco E. Balderrama and Mr. RaymondRodríguez argue that an estimated one million individuals of Mexican heritage were deported during the Great Depression, where an estimated 60 percent consisted of U.S. citizens.In terms ofOperation Wetbackduring the mid-1900s,then-PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower ordered the deportation of over one million individuals of Mexican heritage—immigrants and citizens.

Inspired by Eisenhower, during his presidential campaign, Trump praised “Operation Wetback.” By doing so, then-candidate Trump sent a clear signal to his white nativist base, where his anti-immigration policies will consist of enforcement-only measures, resurrecting the mass deportations of brown immigrants of the 20thCentury. The underlying premise of Trump’s mass deportation fantasies (of the past) and policies (of the present) center on the eugenics ideology (or pseudoscience), from the late-1800s to the present. Coined by Francis Galton, this pseudoscience is based on the premise that to “advance” the human “race,” individuals with “good” traits/genes (“whites”) or so-called “desirable” traits/genes should reproduce with each other.

Throughout history, the eugenics ideology/movement has been used by racist individuals and groups, like the Nazi leaders in Germany or neo-Nazis in the United States, to claim that the Aryan raceis genetically superior compared to other “races” or groups. Prior to the rise of Nazism, however, white Americans used this pseudoscience to argue that they were superior compared to racialized groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans. For instance, as a way to justify their racist policies towards African Americans throughout the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, like residential segregation and whites-only spaces (public and private), white American leaders and white citizens claimed (to the present) that whites were/are superior to blacks.

In his op-ed on the plight of undocumented youth, the 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” (Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2017).

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 African American athletes (e.g., African American professional athletes who refuse to stand for the American flag due to police abuse), Trump represents the next “great-white-hope” to protect white Americans against the so-called black and brown “barbarians.” Under this context, Trump’s fetish or fantasy for a southern border wall, which Mexico will miraculously “pay for,”makes absolute sense. Instead of focusing on bridges that unite us, for instance, Trump is focusing on walls that divide us. In his superb book, Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide, Dr. Michael Dear brilliantly makes case that walls don’t work.

While Trump has solidified his racist credentials, there’s no denying the large share of American voters—almost 63 million voted for him against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 7, 2017—who bought his racist message. For example, of the millions of Trump supporters, how many of them abandoned Trump when he reportedly disparaged immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries during a White House-led meeting on January 11, 2018, where Trump reportedly said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” (The Washington Post, January 12, 2018). To remove any doubt of his racist credentials, Trump also 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 political positions, we can better understand or examine his foreign positions based on isolationist and unilateralist policies. For instance, while Trump insists on building his southern or U.S.-Mexico border wall, where the tax payers will eventually 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 with other viable options, like China or European Union (EU)?

While Mexico’s ruling political party—the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)—constantly caves or bows to Trump, there’s no guarantee that if a progressive candidate like Andrés Manuel López Obradorwins the Mexican presidential election on July 1, 2018, Mexico will continue to capitulate to los gringosor the “Orange-Man-in-the-White House.”

In short, while the U.S. remains a superpower with asymmetric diplomatic relations throughout world, its leaders—Trump and the morally complicit/bankrupt Republican Party—and its citizens must decide if they want to use their enormous military and economic power for good or evil? Unless Trump gets impeached, where his entire administration resigns, including the equally dangerous Vice President Mike Pence, a significant segment of the world—especially the marginalized and oppressed—will continue to perceive the American citizen via a singular gaze: “The Ugly American.”

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Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an 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,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).

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