The Trump Administration Is Using People Of Color To Justify Its Xenophobic Agenda

Attempts to drive a wedge between impoverished blacks and aspirational immigrants are frighteningly familiar.

At the advent of the Great Depression, America wanted not for boogeymen.

The dire turn of the U.S. economy unleashed anti-ethnic sentiment cross-country, with many white Americans attributing the scarcity of work to the presence of blacks, Latinos and Asians in the nation.

For a great many in power, this festering animus initiated the widespread, targeted scapegoating of American minorities in ways we now find familiar.

These efforts are cited rather plainly in Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres’ News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media:

“During the first year of the Hoover administration, more than 17,000 Mexicans were detained and deported from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas alone. The White House was not motivated merely by public sentiment. Hoover had encountered stiff opposition to his economic policies from the country’s trade union movement, so he specifically directed [Labor Secretary William] Doak to use the massive deportations to ‘create diversion to counteract organized labor’s hostile attitude.’”

It is easy to see how these incidents of old color actions taken by the current administration.

In no uncertain terms, the administration’s adamant supporters and thought leaders endorse cultural infighting and ethnic purification as steps toward white American utopia. 

One quote frequently cited by white nationalists in support of Donald Trump, for example, comes from political scientist Samuel Huntington and declares an exclusive American edict: 

“There is no Americano dream ... There is only the American dream created by an Anglo Protestant society ...

“If this trend [toward diversity] continues, the cultural division between Hispanics and Anglos could replace the racial division between Blacks and whites as the most serious cleavage in U.S. history.”

This fear and the nascent presidency it birthed are attributable to concerned white Americans who, just as their racial kin from the aughts of the 20th century, see their woes personified in blacks, Latinos and Asians infringing upon their livelihood. Yet while similarities exist here between administrations of old and late, we needn’t underestimate the unique devolution of our time and the rarified air of its evils.

The Trump administration is actively advancing an agenda heralded by white nationalists, and its attempts to animate African Americans as a means to this end are becoming clearer with time.

On Wednesday, the nation learned of the administration’s hopes to curb legal immigration through an exclusive point system which— if codified in law —would prioritize immigrants based on their monetary value and disincentivize immigrants seeking refuge from poverty.

According to White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, commodifying immigrants according to their potential economic benefit is more fruitful than other metrics.

“Every year we issue a million green cards to foreign nationals from all the countries of the world,” he said, “but we do so without regard to whether that applicant has demonstrated the skill that can add to the U.S. economy, whether they can pay their own way or be reliant on welfare, or whether they’ll displace or take a job from an American worker.”

There is, in this notion, the underlying premise that one who cannot provide a tangible good upon entry is wholly unworthy of citizenship or naturalization. It is a jarring idea, the suggestion that an immigrant to the nation arrives in instant servitude — that she or he need prove her humanity and deservedness through her ability to code, or operate or teach physics. This practice would mark an explicit monetization of people that Americans largely pretend was buried deep in our ugly past.

In his reflection, Miller seems bizarrely ignorant to his employment of one racist stereotype in service of another.

Ironically, Miller continued his press conference with an appeal to African Americans, who suffered greatly under similar theories concerning human worth being determined by the products we create.

“How is it fair or right or proper that if, say, you open up a new business in Detroit, that the unemployed workers of Detroit are going to have to compete against an endless flow of unskilled workers for the exact same jobs, reducing pay for those positions, and reducing their chance of getting those jobs while, at the same time, ultra-high-skilled workers are in the back of the line to get into the country?” he said. 

“There’s no doubt that it’s very, very sad and very unfair that immigration policy, both legal and illegal, over the last several decades has had a deleterious impact on African American employment in general,” he continued, “and certainly African American males, that has been quite tragic.”

An abandoned, vacant house is seen in Detroit on Jan. 3, 2012.
An abandoned, vacant house is seen in Detroit on Jan. 3, 2012.

In his reflection, Miller seems bizarrely ignorant to his employment of one racist stereotype in service of another.

In his imagination (and, by virtue, that of the administration) black dullards are being nudged from their rightful low rung in favor of the cheap and cunning Mexicans, as well as Central and South Americans. Evidently, there is no public reckoning; no consideration afforded to the notion that black Americans being predestined for low-skilled jobs is outside America’s natural order; no attempt to wrestle with the reality of oppression that damns swaths of blacks and Hispanics to poor circumstance. 

And herein lies the cynicism in the Trump administration’s attempt to drive a wedge between African Americans and immigrants: It presumes the ignorance of its audience.

The suggestion that immigrants assume roles otherwise reserved for African Americans rests upon the idea that African Americans are unaware of the pittance offered to them through Trump’s policies, incapable of aspiring toward more; it requires the perception that advancing and improving the lives of black and brown Americans is prioritized over coddling white frailty; and, flatly, this requires a trust in the administration that its figurehead has proven himself utterly unworthy of receiving.