The Cruelty Is the Point (OPINION)

Oct 29, 2020
2:25 PM

In this December 11, 2018 file photo, an asylum-seeking boy from Central America runs down a hallway after arriving from an immigration detention center to a shelter in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

There is no question that the Trump administration’s cruelty has led to the disappearance of asylum-seeking parents and children.

“It is the hope that this separation will act as a deterrent to parents bringing their children into the harsh circumstances that are present when trying to enter the United States illegally,” a Border Patrol official wrote on October 28, 2017, to the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, according to the draft report. If you weren’t aware of the cruelty behind Trump’s zero-tolerance policy enforced by Jeff Sessions and Steven Miller, you are likely conscious of it now.

According to a recent article by the New York Times, “The Justice Department’s top officials were ‘a driving force’ behind the policy that spurred the separation of thousands of families, many of them fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States, before Mr. Trump abandoned it amid global outrage, according to a draft report of the results of the investigation by Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general.”

While many have been made aware of the barbarity of Trump’s immigration policies, it would be intellectual dishonesty if we disregarded the policies of presidents past—both Democrat and Republican. Historically speaking, the cruelty surrounding U.S. immigration policy is arguably the most bipartisan issue of our times. For the last four decades, we have seen some of the harshest policies put in place in the same context as the policies over the last 250 years:

“The 1790 Naturalization Act excluded non-white people [White Anglo-Saxon Protestants] from eligibility to naturalize. Naturalization requirements included two years of residence in the country and ‘good moral character,’ and an applicant must be a ‘free white person.’ The Naturalization Act of 1795 extended the residency requirement to five years. In 1798, this was extended to 14 years, then back to five in 1802.”

The United States’ immigration policies have always been unsympathetic to non-white refugees, particularly those from Latin America. In the modern era, despite the U.S. involvement in destabilizing governments in the Caribbean and the South American continent, U.S. policies against those who seek asylum from countries devastated by U.S. interventionism have become more acrimonious over time. Every president has taken actions that have led us to where we are today. They each played a role in opening the door for Trump to do what he’s done.

From Trump to Obama to Clinton to Reagan to everyone in between and beyond, each executive’s policies paved the way for Trump’s barbaric racist immigration policies. There is no denying that his policies target asylum seekers of color. Nowhere do his policies address the illegal migration of white Europeans who largely do not require asylum or protections from oppressive regimes but routinely overstay their visas. This was not done by accident.

It Shouldn’t Be This Way

If you’ve read my work on this issue, you know that immigrants of all nationalities are a benefit to society in the United States. By paying taxes, creating jobs, and starting small businesses, they provide many economic advantages while increasing revenue for cities, states, and the federal government. But if you ask far-right conservatives, migrants of color are somehow simultaneously lazy and stealing jobs. Neither of which is true.

When you hear Trump espouse false claims about Latin American asylum seekers and their children, he’s echoing the words of more than 60 million Americans. None of their ideas and propaganda are new nor are they based in reality. If you are Latino with parents or grandparents who are immigrants, you’re likely accustomed to hearing this rhetoric. It’s used to attack our families, our ancestors, our culture, and our ethnicities. Meanwhile, white immigrants get a pass.

“Historically and now, Latin American immigration has afforded the United States myriad economic benefits, including lower prices for goods produced in industries that employ immigrant workers, increased demand for U.S. products, and higher wages and employment for domestic workers.”—National Institutes of Health, 2013

While right-wing conservatives continue to make unsubstantiated claims about Latin American asylum-seekers, those same immigrants boost economic growth for the U.S. and increase the productivity of American workers in general by bringing with them much-needed skills and skilled labor. Immigrant workers allow the most important sectors of the economy to grow and expand, thus attracting investment and creating many employment opportunities for Americans.

The false narratives that demonize immigrants of color have their foundations in white supremacy and have been built upon over centuries. In the U.S., we are currently in an environment that has given credibility to the propaganda of David Duke and many others that preceded him. Duke was the first to popularize the notion of white extinction decades ago. Now, many different hate groups and organizations have propelled this idea and normalized it among white populations all over the United States creating what they term as white extinction anxiety

The idea of white extinction is based on no more truth than the lies about immigrants of color. This idea is meant to strike fear among the so-called white working class, a dog whistle that is meant to target poor whites. They fear the Browning of America which is something that many say is inevitable. While that may be true, the idea of white extinction is not. Not only are white folks not endangered they’re also not being targeted by immigrants of color or Democrats

While those beliefs have been prevalent in the United States for decades, there is no question that the election of Donald Trump added fuel to the white extinction fire. Trump’s language is that of white nationalists. It’s the same coded language used by the Ku Klux Klan for the last several decades gaining prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. Trump’s rhetoric exploded the type of thinking that white folks use to justify their so-called anxieties about white extinction.

If white folks were to drop the notion of whiteness altogether and acknowledged their cultural heritage and ethnicities, those intangible fears can then become shared commonalities with immigrants of every nation, particularly of the Americas. But that’s wishful thinking.

Decisions to Make

As American citizens, regardless of where we come from, we all have a collective decision to make regarding the treatment of asylum seekers by U.S. authorities. While Trump exposed his policies and the heartless treatment of migrant families by tearing them apart, and once we acknowledge the history of the bipartisan nature of cruelty towards migrants of color, we must then begin to push our elected officials for immigration reform based on humane policies.

No longer should we accept the denigration of migrants of color any more than we accept the vilification of Indigenous people, Black people, Jewish people, or Latinos in America. While voting is most certainly important, its significance dies if we fail to hold elected officials to account. Don’t expect to hold someone like Trump or anyone in his administration to account for anything. They simply don’t care. Not a single one of them is concerned with non-white people.

But can we count on a Joe Biden or a Kamala Harris to care?

As Julio Ricardo Varela of Latino Rebels wrote for NBC News THINK, “Do we want the cruel bully, the fake tough-guy who isn’t so tough when asked to take responsibility for his actions? Or do we want the man who is horrified by kids in cages, and willing to admit that what role he played in that ultimate, terrible outcome was wrong and he’s learned he has to do better?”

He continued, “Unlike anything Trump has ever done, Biden admitted that what happened under President Barack Obama was a mistake.” Sure, Biden and Obama failed asylum seekers in many ways including the mass deportation of millions of asylum seekers already in the United States. But moving forward, we already know that we can not depend on anyone in Trump’s cabinet to be humane. They’re evil. They enjoy the torture they inflict on asylum-seekers.

The Trump administration simply does not care and they all salivate at the thought of destroying families. You see it in their faces when questioned about it. You see it from Trump when anyone brings up children who may never see their parents again. He doesn’t care any more than he does about COVID impacting Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities most. He brags about how good children are being treated and how clean detention camps are. Both of which are lies that disregard the psychological impacts his policies are having on asylum-seeking families.

Yes, America is at a crossroads. Is Joe Biden the preferred candidate? Most, including me, would say no, not by a long shot. But the bar is pretty damn low right now and a monkey throwing feces at us would be better than another four years of a cruel administration that targets our families and friends. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for but to move us forward instead of back to the days when the KKK ruled overall, the choice is clear.

You can side with white supremacy or you can side with a more openly diverse nation as it was meant to be. Vote for whomever you want. I just want you to know that me and mine will be judging you.


Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer in racism on Medium and a regular contributor to Latino Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Instagram.