By Sarah Hamilton-Jiang
Since the beginning of his Presidential campaign, America’s chief executive — the President — enabled by Congress and the Supreme Court — have accelerated attempts to reshape this country’s stance on immigration, positing that the flow of people from outside of America’s borders will bring with it some unquantifiable danger and an unwanted change in culture. They have trafficked in stereotypes and worked to turn immigration law and policy into a breeding ground for xenophobia.
And yet, for all the talk of culture change, what is really at the heart of the Trump Administration’s immigration policy is a simple, but powerful phenomena: racism. We must acknowledge this fundamental truth, reject the lie that portrays immigration as a problem, and force America to live up to the values it purports to uphold.
To some, it may not be immediately obvious that the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are rooted in racism. In part, that is because they have cultivated justifications for retrograde and inhumane conduct by citing to concerns over “national security,” or a need to apply a “zero-tolerance” standard to prevent the “infestation” of those who allegedly break the law. In doing so, they have created policies and laws that circumvent existing laws, stripping immigrants of color of fundamental rights and protections. The administration has ignored international refugee and asylum laws that allow migrants to seek asylum in an arriving country; they have disrespected international and national laws that seek to protect the welfare of children regardless of their documented status, and even the Supreme Court chose to uphold the overtly discriminatory Muslim Travel ban, in spite of its exclusionary religious and racial implications. In all this, they have sought to remove race from the discourse.
But Trump’s words speak for themselves, and his racialized attack against immigrants of color is clear. As detailed in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Trump v. Hawaii, from the time of his Presidential campaign, Trump continues to mock, degrade and racially abuse immigrants of color, receiving little resistance from his governing party. From his initial pledge to ban Muslims from entering the United States, to his retweets of anti-Muslim videos and statements by white supremacists, Trump has made his anti-Muslim animus clear to the “reasonable observer.” He continued his vitriolic tirade against immigrants of color by repeatedly calling Mexican’s rapists, drug dealers and described members of MS-13 as ‘animals.’ He has also turned his abuse to black immigrants, questioning why America accepts immigrants from “s***hole countries” such as Haiti and countries in Africa. And if you are still not convinced by his racialized rhetoric, just take a look at his statement expressing his desire to receive more immigrants from countries like Norway.
In each instance, Trump has sought to ignite fears of a ‘changed culture’ and has wholeheartedly condoned the view that race and culture are intertwined in the United States. Ultimately, he warns against a change in racial dynamics — a perceived threat to white hegemony and white privilege. As census population projections forecast that by 2045 the nation will become “minority white,” it is unsurprising that the gatekeepers of this country are deploying abhorrent strategies to desperately retain power. Such strategies will continue to evolve as we oppose bigotry and racism.
While some insist that we are living in extraordinary times, against the arc of history, Trump’s comments — though shocking and disturbing — are in many ways quite ordinary. Immigration law has long been rooted in the belief that people of color should not be allowed to dilute the pure culture of the United States. From the Chinese Exclusion Ban in 1882, to the racially disparate treatment of Haitian’s and Cuban’s seeking asylum in the 1990’s — racial discrimination and exclusion have become hallmarks of American immigration law. In turn, America has consistently treated people of color — from native people to enslaved Africans to Latinos and Asians — as less than human, rendering them among the most vulnerable and marginalized. Ironically, these are the very same people responsible for shaping and building American culture.
We must therefore, recognize the immigration debate for what it really is: a manifestation of the desire to retain white hegemony through the demonization and dehumanization of people of color.
This is the changed culture that Trump would like to see. This is the culture of one bereft of immigrants of color. It is the very antithesis of America. We must resist the divisive rhetoric and the politics of fear perpetuated by this Administration and its enablers.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it should be a clarion call to remember our common humanity. Every single one of us has a history of migration — involuntarily by brute force or voluntary in search of a better life. America is and has always been a nation of racially diverse migrants, slaves, laborers and immigrants and race has always been a dominant force in the maintenance of our cultural values.
History also teaches us another, more hopeful lesson that is relevant for our current predicament: that cultural movements can influence law, policy, and practice. In the midst of this disturbing dystopian circus, we must remember that the administration’s efforts to recast American immigration is an attack against all people of color. With that as an orienting principle, we can create a cultural movement by fundamentally rejecting the notion that immigrants are to be feared and are problematic for our nation.
It is possible to directly influence the current discourse, indeed we began to see this in action when Trump signed an Executive Order halting the policy that was separating children from their families at the border, following national outrage. Rather than feeling helpless or apathetic, we can contribute to this cultural movement by being actively engaged and aware of the legal protections and rights of immigrants.
Learn about the rights of immigrants at InformedImmigrant.com and share this knowledge on social media platforms to combat the false narratives that dominate existing platforms.
In addition, consider volunteering with a local immigration organization such as those featured by The Southern Poverty Law Center.
Our response to this attack on our culture will define who we are. We have an opportunity; let us rise up and move forward in solidarity.
Learn more about the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law.