Subscribe
TD originals

Denormalizing Hate

A California Transportation Department warning sign about immigrants crossing a freeway near the state's border with Mexico. (John Hood / Wikimedia)

The latest telling of America’s immigration story may not have a happy ending. On Sunday morning, the following news alert appeared on my phone: “Trump tweeted DACA is ‘probably dead’ today as he blamed Democrats for stalled talks over a possible immigration deal.”

“He’s such an ass,” I told my wife.

“That’s not nice,” responded Siri, the voice assistant on my phone.

We laughed.

Siri refuses to confirm or deny she’s pro-Trump, but the voice is pro-nice, and the immigration debate in America has been anything but nice.

Trump’s tweet, which has been retweeted more than 17,000 times and liked more than 73,000 times, added that “Democrats don’t really want [DACA], they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military.”

Let’s be honest. Trump bases his immigration policy on skin color. Preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is the right (and humane) thing to do. But because DACA helps mostly brown people from Latin America—and brown isn’t a preferred skin color on our racist-in-chief’s pigment chart—Trump won’t lose any sleep killing it.

For now, DACA participants can again apply for renewal, but how long will this last?

“Dreamers”—those who benefit from DACA—did not do anything wrong when they came to America. Their parents skirted immigration laws by crossing the U.S. border, but they often had good reasons (self-preservation and family survival being high on the list). Kids who have grown up in America and become productive members of society should not be punished for their parents’ mistakes. And claiming Democrats don’t want DACA, without mentioning that they don’t support a deal contingent on building a border wall (at a cost of $21 billion to $150 billion, depending on which report you believe), is disingenuous at best and flat-out lying at worst.

Yes, the U.S. needs to secure its borders. But building a huge, expensive border wall is not the way to make America safer. Neither is increasing the Pentagon’s budget. The U.S. military does not need any more money. We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the whole planet, multiple times over. All the military requires are a few people to push the buttons. The war-crazy government should be figuring out ways to spend less money on the military, not more.

What we need are tough, fair and practical immigration laws that eliminate discrimination and cruelty. This might be a fool’s errand with Trump in charge.

Trump wants immigration legislation to end the diversity visa lottery system that was established with the Immigration Act of 1990 and “makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.” According to The New York Times, the president thinks the program threatens the country’s security (“even though people selected are screened in the same ways that other immigrants are”) and “undermines efforts by the administration to allow immigrants who have skills that will be beneficial to the United States.”

Immigrants of all races, colors, creeds, religions and occupations are assets to the United States—and they have been since the founding of our country. Immigrants helped build America. Not all of them were doctors, lawyers or engineers. Some were ditch diggers, construction workers and maids. Accepting people to America based on “merit” goes against the spirit of America. Remember the words of Emma Lazarus in “The New Colossus,” engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

If America stops taking the tired, poor, homeless “refuse” yearning to breathe free, we will stop being America. Not everyone who comes to the United States needs to be a rocket scientist. Value can be added in many ways. Who will do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do? Clean toilets. Pick strawberries. Care for children. Will having huge holes in our social fabric and economy make America stronger?

Crafting fair immigration policy in the 21st century is not easy. The challenge is made tougher when a country like the United States presents more economic opportunity or safety than a person’s homeland. Sometimes, the choice is simple: Leave home and live, or stay home and die. In many cases, the United States has forced this decision for immigrants, making countries unstable and undesirable through political and military actions. When Trump talks about “shithole countries,” he fails to examine the fact that the U.S. played a role—sometimes the primary role—in creating the mess. But the U.S. empire’s responsibility for the immigration problem and taking any sense of accountability is not part of the discussion.

Take El Salvador, a country now mired in violence, poverty, inequality and crime. America bears responsibility for this chaos. As journalist Roberto Lovato reports for Latino Rebels:

Many of the thousands of graves that my sources there have mapped were dug by U.S.-trained and funded security forces in the 80s. Most of the rest were dug more recently by L.A. based-gangs steadily deported to El Salvador by U.S. immigration authorities since the 90s.

The Trump administration wants to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for about 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants and send them back to El Salvador if they don’t attain legal status in 18 months. Blanca Portillo, a 41-year-old women who fled El Salvador as a pregnant widow in 1997 “after her husband and mother were murdered there in separate incidents,” is one of those immigrants, The Boston Globe reports. Portillo restarted her life in the United States and now “owns a home in East Boston with her second husband, an immigrant from Mexico, and works in catering.”

“I have my house here,” Portillo told the Globe. “I have a car. I have a very good job. I am so happy in my job. I feel like this is my country. It’s not my country, but I feel like it is.”

Many immigrants feel the same way. Before we force them to return to their native countries, how about we make sure their homelands are stable and safe first? Especially if we destabilized the country in the first place.

We share blame in America’s broken immigration system. Reform requires more than just making fair, humane and rational immigration laws. The immigration debate also should be self-reflective and acknowledge the U.S. role in creating this problem.

Immigration reform also should be about righting wrongs in “shithole countries” we helped create. If countries were stable, people would not need to come to America in the first place. Then, we wouldn’t have an immigration crisis. Humans have a survival instinct. Immigrants don’t come to America for no reason. They come to America for a better life. And to survive.

You wouldn’t know that listening to Trump and his white nationalist/isolationist/protectionist/nativist/”America First” supporters. Defenders of Trump’s far-right immigration policies, such as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), argue that TPS is not a resettlement program. This type of argument fails to address America’s role in creating immigration issues and shows how hate has gone mainstream. As Adam Johnson explains in the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting:

The Center for Immigration Studies has, since January 2017, taken an outsized role in American media as Trump’s go-to defender for his overtly white nationalist immigration policies. There’s one problem with this: The Center for Immigration Studies is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a hate group with a long, documented history of nativist and white nationalist leanings. Over the past month alone, leading papers like the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal have boosted and normalized CIS, using them to “balance” out their stories on Trump’s anti-immigrant initiatives.

Hate is nothing new in the United States. Just as immigration is in the blood of America, so is xenophobia and nativism. In 1958, former President John F. Kennedy, then a senator, wrote “A Nation of Immigrants” and examined the “emotions of xenophobia—hatred of foreigners—and of nativism—the policy of keeping America ‘pure’ (that is, of preferring old immigrants to new)” as he chronicled the history of immigration in the U.S. and offered inspiring suggestions for immigration policy.

Kennedy wrote:

Since 1607, when the first English settlers reached the New World, over 42 million people have migrated to the United States. This represents the largest migration of people in all recorded history. …

Another way of indicating the importance of immigration to America is to point out that every American who ever lived, with the exception of one group, was either an immigrant himself or a descendant of immigrants.

The exception? Will Rogers, part Cherokee Indian, said that his ancestors were at the dock to the meet the Mayflower. And some anthropologists believe that the Indians themselves were immigrants from another continent who displaced the original Americans—the aborigines.

In just over 350 years [now 410 years], a nation of nearly 200 million people [now 326 million] has grown up, populated almost entirely by persons who either came from other lands or whose forefathers came from other lands. …

The wisest Americans have always understood the significance of the immigrant. Among the long “train of abuses and usurpations” that impelled the framers of the Declaration of Independence to the fateful step of separation was the charge that the British monarch had restricted immigration: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that reason obstructing the Laws for the Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” …

The famous words of Emma Lazarus on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty read: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Until 1921 [when an emergency immigration law introduced a quota system], this was an accurate picture of our society. Under present law, it would be appropriate to add: “as long as they come from Northern Europe, are not too tired or too poor or slightly ill, never stole a loaf of bread, never joined any questionable organization, and can document their activities for the past two years.” …

Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience. Such a policy would be but a reaffirmation of old principles. It would be an expression of our agreement with George Washington that “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.

Today’s America looks different from the America of 60 years ago, but Kennedy’s vision for immigration reform still applies. Instead of getting rid of 11 million undocumented immigrants—an unrealistic plan—why not focus on how we can keep them and benefit the United States with generous, fair and flexible policy?

Donald J. Trump is no John F. Kennedy. Trump is not even George W. Bush, who urged Americans to embrace diversity and believed in fair immigration reform. Hell, Trump isn’t even George Jefferson or Archie Bunker. At least, they were honest about their bigotry.

America now has a president who has to deny he is a racist.

“No, no. I am not a racist,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.”

Trump can deny he is a racist all he wants.

His allies can circle the wagons and deny Trump is a racist all day, every day.

Scripted photo ops won’t sway public opinion.

Trump is a racist. He’s working to normalize hate. WTF Just Happened summed up this state of our world in one sentence: “Trump denied calling Haiti a ‘shithole’; senators, however, confirmed Trump used ‘shithole’ and that it was ‘hate-filled, vile and racist’; the U.N. and Anderson Cooper called Trump’s comments racist; Don Lemon called Trump himself a racist; and at an event honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Trump said ‘we are all created equal.’ “

Trump is a symptom of an underlying illness that afflicts America. This moral sickness has metastasized with our current immigration debate, returning us to darker days.

Despite this reality, Trump and white supremacists underestimate the will of the American people. About 139 million people voted in the 2016 presidential election, or 60 percent of the 200 million eligible voters in the United States. Although 63 million voted for Trump and 66 million for Hillary Clinton, more than 60 million registered voters did not vote, and many of those nonvoters were minorities. Many Trump supporters may share “racial resentment” with 917 active hate groups in the United States (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center), but racist behavior is declining in America.

The Economist reported in September:

The “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 and President Donald Trump’s apparent inability to condemn neo-Nazis has fanned fears that his presidency will be accompanied by a rising tide of racism. There were already worrying signs of that: of 1,094 “bias incidents” monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremists, between November 2016 and February 2017, more than a third of perpetrators were said to have mentioned Donald Trump, his campaign slogans or policies. And the center suggests the number of hate groups in America, which had dropped between 2011 and 2014, began to climb again during the election campaign. But while race discrimination is still significant and widespread, it is declining—and Mr Trump’s accommodation of white supremacists will not be enough to reverse the tide.

The far right is celebrating Trump’s “shithole” comment. However, the overall global reaction has been disgust. Hate is not normal and will not be normalized, no matter what Trump says or does.

Trump is a hatemonger. As long as he is promoting division in his words and deeds, he will not represent the common good of America. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his final public speech on April 3, 1968: “The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. … We’ve got some difficult days ahead. … But I want you to know … that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

The measure of a nation’s greatness is how it treats its weakest members. America is failing. The poor, minorities and refugees are demonized, while an American system that values materialism over humanism has turned good people into hypocrites, phonies and sellouts. If we are to address the illness of profit over people, then we must address the underlying illness, rather than the symptoms.

Immigration is the American way. The United States is not a hateful place. Most Americans are kind, decent folks. The true spirit of our country is inclusion and democracy. While that spirit has not always been practiced, that is the ideal. Over the years, this ideal has become corrupted into a myth. Still, we dream of a better America. And we continue to fight for a better America that serves as a beacon of freedom to all.

Now is no time to lose faith in the American ideal. One day, if we keep fighting for equality, justice and peace, we might be able to say America is great.

And it won’t be a lie.

Eric Ortiz
Managing Editor
Eric Ortiz is the managing editor of Truthdig. A journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John…
Eric Ortiz

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.