And despite the old and mostly now dispatched with suggestion that his words should often be taken seriously and not literally, President Trump’s comments both publicly and behind the scenes about illegal immigrants make one thing clear: They have no place in the president’s ideas of a “great” America.
In an excerpt for a forthcoming book, two New York Times reporters detail that in a March meeting with his political aides, Trump’s frustration about illegal immigration led him to suggest violent solutions to the problem. They reported:
Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.
Trump tweeted Wednesday denying that he called for a reptile-filled moat: “I may be tough on Border Security, but not that tough. The press has gone Crazy. Fake News!!" The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, however, confirmed that Trump wanted migrants attempting to illegally cross the border shot.
And that he wanted migrants to be targeted is not as much of a stretch as defenders of Trump might argue given his track record of supporting violent actions toward those who dare challenge his plan to make American “great” in the eyes of his supporters. This could be, in part, why some of his supporters have taken his words about undocumented immigrants literally and acted violently.
But this is not the first time Trump’s words toward immigrants have been dehumanizing. Looking back to the earliest days of his campaign, Trump has reserved some of his most violent and dehumanizing language toward immigrants. In his campaign announcement, Trump accused immigrants from Mexico of being criminals.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “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.”
And in July 2017, during a speech largely focused on MS-13, a violent gang started in the United States that recruits and preys upon immigrants, Trump encouraged police to be more violent in their handling of those suspected of crime.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” he said.
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head],” Trump added mimicking a cop arresting a suspect. “Like, ‘Don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head.’ I said, ‘You can take the hand away, okay?’
And in January 2018, Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers who came to the Oval Office to finds a way to protect immigrants from developing nations with large black populations.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president asked, according to those in the meeting.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump added. “Take them out.”
And days before the 2018 midterm election, the president characterized individuals crossing the border and seeking asylum as violent criminals terrorizing law enforcement and others on their way to wreak havoc in the United States.
“Some people call it an ‘invasion,’” he said. “It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border.”
“They’ve overrun the Mexican police, and they’ve overrun and hurt badly Mexican soldiers,” Trump added. “So this isn’t an innocent group of people. It’s a large number of people that are tough. They’ve injured, they’ve attacked, and the Mexican police and military has actually suffered.”