President Trump, however, treats the migrant surge like an existential threat. “We can’t take you anymore. We can’t take you. Our country is full,” he said this month at the border in California. But, of course, our vast nation is anything but full. Instead of “can’t,” what Trump really means is “won’t.”
On almost any issue you can think of, Trump is all over the map. But there is one position on which he has never wavered: antipathy toward nonwhite immigration. From his campaign charge that Mexican immigrants are “rapists,” to his fruitless quest to get funding for a border wall, to his gratuitously cruel policy of family separations, to his declaration of a national emergency, Trump has left not an iota of doubt about how he feels.
To be sure, sometimes the president uses anti-immigration rhetoric to inflame his base. But unlike with other issues, Trump seems actually to believe his demagoguery about would-be Latino migrants.
The administration acts as if it considers the asylum seekers to be less than human. What other conclusion can be drawn, after thousands of young children were taken from their parents and shipped to detention centers far away, as a deterrent to others who might seek entry? How else can anyone characterize the notion — now under active consideration, according to the White House — of transporting migrants hundreds or thousands of miles, not out of necessity but simply so they can be released in “sanctuary cities” and the districts of Trump’s political opponents?
That last Bond-villain idea is apparently the brainchild of White House adviser Stephen Miller, who seems to be the closest thing Trump has to an operational chief of staff — someone who shares his vision, however warped, and will move heaven and earth to bring it to life.
Miller’s history as an anti-immigration zealot goes back to his time as an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) , who became Trump’s first attorney general. It is no exaggeration to say that Sessions, both in the Senate and in the Cabinet, was obsessed with reducing immigration, legal as well as illegal. Sessions is gone from the administration, but Miller remains, and clearly he has Trump’s ear.
Trump has said that the countries from which asylum seekers and economic migrants are fleeing are not sending “their best” people, and that entry should be based on “merit,” not on family connections. That would be a complete departure from the immigration policies that allowed Trump’s and Miller’s forebears to come to this country, but it sounds debatable — until you take into account Trump’s other remarks. He has reportedly disparaged nonwhite countries with a vulgar epithet and expressed a preference for immigrants from places like Norway, which happens to be one of the whitest countries on the planet. In the context of immigration policy, he has regaled crowds with the story — likely apocryphal — of his friend “Jim,” who used to go to Paris all the time but doesn’t anymore because “Paris is no longer Paris.”
Trump isn’t talking about gridlocked traffic on the Boulevard Peripherique. He’s talking about the black and brown immigrants who are changing the city’s complexion.
Does Trump seek political gain by stoking white Americans’ fears of the “browning” of the United States due to Latino immigration? Absolutely. But if his racism were purely situational — like his professed commitment to fiscal responsibility, or his supposed social conservatism — he would depart from it occasionally. And he doesn’t.
He might at least feign compassion for men, women and children who risk their lives to flee deadly violence at home. Instead, Trump cut off aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the countries from which most of the asylum seekers are coming. He does not comfort or embrace. He seeks only to punish.
The real crisis is that we have a president who wants to put up a “No Vacancies” sign for nonwhite immigrants — just like the “No Coloreds” signs I used to see in the Jim Crow South.