Republicans have long claimed they were OK with legal immigration. Under Trump and Sessions, forget it.
If you happened to take a breather over the past few days you may have missed that Donald Trump told the DACA negotiators last Thursday that he didn’t like the compromise they’d come up with because he didn’t want any immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa and wondered why we couldn’t just have immigration from places like Norway. The firestorm from those remarks is ongoing, with Senate Republican henchmen like Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., going on the Sunday shows and cravenly changing their stories about the meeting from “I don’t recall” to “nope, he never said it.”
This has now become one of Trump’s loyalty tests: which Republicans are willing to ignore the fact that the emperor is running around without his pants on. Of course he said it. There are probably not more than a handful of Americans who doubt it.
This is a man whose racism, xenophobia and nativism stretch back 50 years. In the 1970s, Donald Trump and his father were named in a housing discrimination suit against Puerto Ricans and African-Americans and had to operate under a consent decree. He ranted for years against policies that forbid police brutality, particularly in communities of color. This is a man who told associates he didn’t want black accountants because they were “lazy” and testified against Native American gaming by saying that tribal negotiators “don’t look like Indians to me.”
During the course of Trump’s presidential campaign he famously slagged Mexicans and Muslims as criminals and terrorists. Since then he has stood up for Nazis and neo-Confederates and called black football players who knelt during the national anthem “sons of bitches.” The New York Times reported that he recently said “Haitians all have AIDS” and that if we allowed Nigerians to come into the country they’d never go “back to their huts.”
This is the man who made his name in right-wing politics by elevating the lunatic-fringe conspiracy theory of birtherism into the mainstream.
So all these Trump loyalists who want to clutch their pearls and insist that he could never say anything so racist as “shithole countries” are making fools of themselves.
Unfortunately, the destruction of the Republican Party’s tattered credibility isn’t our biggest problem. The futures of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers who face mass deportation because of Trump’s reversal of the DACA program are hanging in the balance. Trump’s administration is also planning the mass deportation of nearly 250,000 Salvadorans, along with tens of thousands of Hondurans, Haitians and others, all of whom have been legally living in this country for many years, and many of whom have American children.
Unfortunately, Republicans are no longer just feigning horror at undocumented immigrants or those here with legal but temporary status to salve their insecure white base. They are following Trump down the white nationalist rabbit hole, head first.
Republicans are now pushing for changes to legal immigration the likes of which we haven’t seen since the the 1920s. (Apparently, we have finally located the era when Trump believes America was last great.)
The Los Angeles Times noted the abrupt GOP shift from a party that had traditionally made a sharp distinction between support for illegal and legal immigration, arguing that the latter was an important contribution to the economy and American cultural vitality. This wasn’t particularly partisan or controversial until recently, except among the far-right fringe. Now such mainstream leaders as the aforementioned Cotton and Perdue are pushing extremist legislation, backed by Trump’s malevolent adviser Stephen Miller, to slash the number of immigrants allowed into the U.S. each year and end all family reunification policies. Trump has adopted this policy in the form of one of his fatuous mantras: “End chain migration!”
I recall writing scathingly here at Salon about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s foray into this issue during his ill-fated presidential campaign, after Walker conferred with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and came out saying he was in favor of curtailing legal immigration. That seemed to be a huge mistake and was instrumental in alienating him from his benefactors, David and Charles Koch. A number of GOP senators, including Rob Portman of Ohio, rushed to the microphone to denounce this idea, saying, “As a party we’ve always embraced immigrants coming here legally, following the rules, and it’s enriched our country immeasurably. It’s who we are. It’s the fabric of our success.”
That was in August of 2015, when nobody dreamed that Trump would be president and Sessions would be attorney general two years later. They obviously didn’t know that Sessions and his apprentice Stephen Miller had written a white nationalist manifesto the previous January that was waiting to be taken up by any racist demagogue who wanted it. Walker flamed out early, but Trump picked up his torch and ran with it.
It was called the “Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority,“ and it proposed a virtual halt to all immigration, legal and illegal, claiming that it is the cause of poverty, wage stagnation and the decline of the middle class. It’s a classic example of far-right populist misdirection, which explicitly references the racist and draconian Immigration Act of 1924, aka the National Origins Act and Asian Exclusion Act, claiming that the legislation “allowed wages to rise, assimilation to occur, and the middle class to emerge.”
Today is the national holiday to commemorate the life and achievement of Martin Luther King Jr. As is so often the case, he left us with the perfect words to express the American ideal that Trump is throwing into that hole in the outhouse.
This is from King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
President Trump does not agree. And he and the white nationalists who follow him now dominate one of America’s two major political parties.
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