BCK FILE--“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.” --Donald J. Trump, presidential announcement speech, June 16, 2015
As I write this column, we are in the midst of the longest-standing federal government shutdown in U.S. history. According to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS, the majority of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown and 56% of Americans oppose building a border wall. This statistic has remained unchanged since December. And 52% of Americans polled disagree with Trump about a “border crisis.”
For Trump and his acolytes, the Wall is a symbol of keeping certain immigrants out of this country, a rallying cry for blaming the same people for any number of ills. Exploding opioid addiction? Blame it on Mexican immigrants. Unsafe streets? Let’s find a few crimes committed by undocumented workers to back our point.
The Wall reportedly began as a memory device to help an “undisciplined candidate” remember to attack immigrants during his speech. Fearful tribalism has long been an effective political tool. Hitler used his rallies to rile German anti-Semitism, blaming the Jews for the outcome of World War I, the diving German economy, and a myriad of other problems. History is replete with similar examples.
The Trump administration, Fox as an extension, and many of his supporters aren’t concerned with Europeans overextending their visas. Trump targets “brown” people as evil. See Muslim Travel Ban.
Per Pew Research, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and Central America has declined and leveled off since the Great Recession. A report by American Society of Criminology last March found a negative correlation between unauthorized populations and violent crime.
Conversely, in 2017, hate crimes in 10 major U.S. cities rose by 17 percent, the third consecutive yearly increase. FBI statistics showed a similar increase in California.
Trump has charged “illegal” immigration with costing the U.S. $200B a year, a statistic that has been negated by immigration experts. Undocumented workers contribute to the tax base through sales tax and may even pay social security tax under falsified numbers. (The New Jersey attorney general is currently investigating allegations that Trump National Golf Club provided fake green cards and social security cards to undocumented employees.)
Working to secure borders is not in and of itself an unworthy goal but the current situation is far more dangerous for those attempting to cross the border than for U.S. citizens. People desperate to leave unsafe and impoverished conditions are exploited by those who charge exorbitant fees for passage. Trump’s executive order has separated migrant families. At least two children have died.
Dehumanizing immigrants is unconscionable. The xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric doesn’t typically make a distinction between those here with documentation or otherwise. Those of us who live in Southern California have likely engaged with people who may or may not be documented. For every fear-mongering anecdote, we likely have dozens of positive experiences to counter. In the thirty years I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I’ve taught children of possibly undocumented parents. (I never asked.) Like many Southern Californians, I’ve entrusted women who immigrated from other countries to care for my babies. I’ve taught English as a Second Language to people who left their home countries to bring their children better opportunities.
My own children aside, the one thing that makes me most proud is to hear an immigrant talk about the successes of his or her children. I’ve had innumerable conversations with parents from all over the world whose children are now in college or medical school, who have become doctors, teachers, lawyers, and who are living the American Dream.
My great-grandparents (and going further back on my mother’s side) came here for opportunity, to escape pogroms and violent anti-Semitism. They weren’t much different from the people from Mexico or Central America who face similar conditions in their home countries. That is what makes this country great; not a homogeneous and xenophobic racist stew that boils over today. That’s what makes this country shameful.
Beth Cone Kramer is a professional writer living in the Los Angeles area. She covers Resistance Watch and other major issues for CityWatch.)