President Donald J Trump and his administration’s immigration agenda centers on draconian, enforcement-based policies and executive orders, exacerbating an already dysfunctional immigration system. As an extension of Trump’s then–presidential campaign, the Trump administration’s immigration policies also represent racist and xenophobic practices, such as anti-Mexicanism and Islamophobia.
Like Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan, these immigration policies and orders promote an isolationist and white nativist philosophy, hearkening back to the more oppressive periods of US history when racialized groups (e.g., Latinos, African Americans) lacked basic civil rights, privileges and freedoms under the law.
Complicating matters, Trump’s immigration policies and orders are plagued with hyperboles and falsifications, making it difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction/fantasy (e.g., Mexico will pay for border wall).
However, while Trump has engaged in an ongoing ‘war on immigrants’ campaign – in actions and words/Tweets – against immigrants and their families/communities, a growing social movement of immigrant activists, immigrant advocates and elected officials have emerged to defend the civil and human rights of those who live and work in America’s shadows.
On January 2, 1960, when then-Senator John F Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States, the charismatic leader proclaimed: “The Presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for all of our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life…”
In contrast to JFK’s aspirational announcement, on June 16, 2015, then-presidential candidate Trump infamously uttered: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… 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…”
By targeting individuals of Mexican origin, Trump launched his presidential campaign on a racist political platform based on anti-Mexicanism – a long-standing American tradition embraced mostly by millions of white citizens/voters. Trump’s derogatory campaign also included the creation of a ‘deportation force’ (i.e., a military-style force) to deport millions of Mexicans, similar to those of the 1950s with ‘Operation Wetback’.
During this racist program, the US government deported over one million Mexican immigrants (including citizens of Mexican heritage). In an excellent essay, ‘La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism–A Paradigm’, the historian Dr Juan Gómez-Quiñones contextualizes the case of anti-Mexicanism: “US 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…”
Similar to the inhumane interment camps of over 125,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during the 1940s, Trump’s immigration policies are intertwined with a long history of racism and xenophobia in the US, where Mexicans, Asians, Arabs (particularly Muslims) and other racialized groups represent threats to national security.
Compared to European immigrants, these racialized groups are also viewed as inferior by the dominant culture, as articulated by the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington’s racist essay, ‘The Hispanic Challenge’.
That is, Trump and his administration didn’t invent racist and xenophobic policies or practices, since countless American leaders and prior administrations have also demonized and scapegoated racialized immigrants throughout US history.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The War on Immigrants: Racist Policies in the Trump Era’.