Obama's America Vs. Trump's America: Divisive Demagoguery On Immigrants And Crime

A lot has already been said about the speech that popular vote loser Donald Trump recently gave to Congress, but let’s focus here on what he said about immigrants, and then compare it to the language our previous president used. One of these presidents sought to bring people of different backgrounds together, while the other sought to—in political science terms—scare the bejeesus out of people.

And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests. Joining us are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver, and Jessica Davis. Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man with unlimited potential, who was getting ready to go to college, where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback. But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine. [snip] Also with us are Susan Oliver and Jessica Davis. Their husbands, Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Detective Michael Davis, were slain in the line of duty in California. They were pillars of their community. These brave men were viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations.

Trump’s demagoguery here is both patently obvious and breathtaking in its ambition. The Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is funding this VOICE program in part by simply taking whatever money DHS had been spending on behalf of undocumented immigrants. The message is pure Trump: instead of your government spending money to help the ‘illegals,’ now it will spend money to help their victims.

What exactly will this office do? According to the Jan. 25 executive order establishing VOICE, it will “provide quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.” Additionally, it orders the DHS secretary to: “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.”

The question is: what would providing such information accomplish and how does doing so, in Trump’s words, “serve” the victims of crimes? The answer: it doesn’t. But what it does, as Trump himself admits, is provide a VOICE, although not really for the victims of crimes, but rather to those who would exploit those crimes in order prey on people’s fears of demographic change (if we’re smart, progressives need to deal with the reality that such change can be scary, especially for those who are themselves economically vulnerable).

Given that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, the only purpose Trump’s plan can have is to brand undocumented immigrants—the mention of whom often evokes images of brown people—as criminals.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth called this new program “horrifying,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed Trump’s rhetoric, saying: “don’t use these tragedies to stir up divisions by race and nationality.” But this is what Trump has been doing since the day he announced his campaign for the presidency by talking about Mexico sending rapists and drug dealers across our borders. It is the kind of rhetoric that fueled the hateful murder shooting of two men—one of whom died—last week in Olathe, Kansas, by a man who shouted at them: “Get out of my country.”

Although Trump did—after days of silence—finally condemn “last week’s shooting in Kansas City” as an act of “hate,” he not only got the location wrong but failed to condemn the specific kind of hate that drove it. One wonders what kind of VOICE the Trump Administration will provide the victims of crimes motivated by anti-immigrant hatred.

The contrast between the language used by Trump and his predecessor could not be more stark. Of countless examples, here’s what President Obama wrote about immigrants in The Audacity of Hope:

America has nothing to fear from these newcomers...they have come here for the same reason that families came here 150 years ago.…Ultimately the danger to our way of life is not that we will be overrun by those who do not look like us or do not yet speak our language. The danger will come if we fail to recognize [their] humanity…if we withhold from them the rights and opportunities that we take for granted.

In a 2011 speech he gave in support of the DREAM Act, he declared:

We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with its back to the world; we raised it with its light to the world. Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande ― we are one people.

In 2010, as part of his criticisms of the notorious Arizona ‘papers, please’ immigration law—the author of which now works for Trump—Obama argued:

We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens—and law-abiding immigrants—into subjects of suspicion and abuse. We can’t divide the American people that way.

Imagine how it must feel to be singled out, to be stigmatized as an immigrant—especially one with dark skin—by the president of the United States. Sadly, we don’t have to imagine the impact this president’s words and actions are having on their lives, including their physical safety.

Trump, by talking about crime and immigrants, is playing on the fears of the native-born. However, we’re already seeing signs that he’s making potential immigrants afraid enough that they’re deciding not to bring their talents and skills to our country. Trump probably thinks that will help make America great again. Given that immigrants start more than 25 percent of all businesses in our country, probably not so much.