The Truth Behind the War on Immigrants

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Historian Gerald Horne explains how the demonization of immigrants are designed to divide the working class and prevent white and non-white workers from acting in solidarity

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: The right never misses a chance to turn a tragedy into an opportunity to demonize immigrants.

LARRY HOGAN: Where my biggest concern lies, is with the Montgomery County school system, and their lack of cooperation, and the lack of information they’ve been providing.

SEAN SPICER: I think part of the reason that the President has made illegal immigration and crack down such a big deal, is because of tragedies like this.

TUCKER CARLSON: I’m not continuously…

MAN: …here and rebuild…

TUCKER CARLSON: …bashing the Central American community, but, by the way, that’s completely false. My only concern is for the people who are already here. Does it make a school better when people move in who don’t speak English? Is it good for the kids who are already in the school, do you think? Does it improve the education?

JAISAL NOOR: In response, many cite studies that show immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than those who are native-born, and criminalizing immigrants deters them from reporting crime, making their communities less safe.

JORGE RAMOS: Check the report by the American Immigration Council. Immigrants are less likely to be criminals than those born in the United States. Immigrants are less likely to be behind bars than U.S. citizens.

JAISAL NOOR: But there is a deeper historical context that is less known or discussed, that the demonization of the “other,” in America is nothing new, from the indigenous population, enslaved African, to just about every wave of immigrants. And some say the true motivations are economic. Terrorize such communities to discourage organizing, and ripen the conditions for more intense economic exploitation.

Maintaining cheap labor is the primary concern of elites. Furthermore, it divides the working class by turning sections against each other, and also to nurture the spirit of white working class racism.

We discussed all of this with eminent historian, author, and scholar, Professor Gerald Horne.

GERALD HORNE: In my class at the University of Houston the other day, I asked my students what was the social and political purpose of Jim Crow in U.S. apartheid. And these young people rapidly came to the conclusion that the purpose was not only to make black people feel inferior, but to soften them up, so that they work for less. That is to say, to create a cheap labor force. But what people in the United States need to realize, is that this has been a long time, long-term tradition in the United States, that is to say, demonizing immigrants.

I was looking at a book the other day that dealt with what purported to be the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. It was 1891, in New Orleans. But it was of Italian immigrants, mostly from Sicily. This is not unusual. Recall that a few decades before that, there was a pogrom launched against Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles. Recall that during that same period in the 1850s, there was the rise of the ‘Know Nothing Party’, that is to say, a party that had as a central premise, the demonizing of people who were Catholic.

Part of the Anglo heritage of the United States of America, is this demonizing of people who were Irish, particular Irish Catholics. And this led to the burning down of convents; this led to special proscriptions targeting those who happen to be Irish immigrants. And so, when I read these headlines today, I just shake my head and say that there’s nothing new under the sun.

JAISAL NOOR: Can you address that, how this is… one of the other… the by-product, or another thing it’s used for, is to turn the working class against each other.

GERALD HORNE: Well, once again, in my class just a few weeks ago, I was able to get from YouTube these scenes from the Martin Scorsese film, Gangs of New York, which presents a terrifying depiction of those so-called, Draft Riots in Manhattan, in 1863, and certainly those riots were designed to split the laboring population of Manhattan. And in a like manner, sadly enough, when speaking to Congress just a few weeks ago, the U.S. President, Donald, J. Trump, was seeking to accomplish a similar purpose, when he raised the unfortunate and tragic shooting of the black youth in Los Angeles, Jamiel Shaw. Supposedly and allegedly purportedly killed by an undocumented Latino immigrant worker.

DONALD TRUMP: Jamiel, 17-year-old son, was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison.

GERALD HORNE: And it was clear that the purpose of Mr. Trump raising this before a national and, indeed, an international audience, was to divide the working class on a black/brown axis. I’m here to tell Mr. Trump that that dirty trick will not work, but certainly we have work to do, to make sure that my words are proven to be correct.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, we talked about the economic reasons to attack immigrants, cheap wages, and cost of labor. And the second part is connected to the nurturing of an openly racist spirit of the white working class, and the fomentation of this fascism, this rising fascism that we can observe in U.S. culture. Can you talk about that, as well?

GERALD HORNE: Anyone who knows anything about U.S. history should not be surprised that a society that tolerated, first slavery, and then Jim Crow and apartheid, has the seeds for the rise of a fascist culture. I’m afraid to say that winds from abroad are helping to propel this fascist culture. I’m speaking of the rise of Geert Wilders, for example, in the Netherlands, the rise of Marine Le Pen in, for example, France, the Alternative for Germany Party, which is expected to do well in the German elections in a few months.

The New York Times had a very striking article just a few days ago, that suggested, that strangely enough, if you look at a number of these neo-fascist parties in Europe, that many of them are led by women, such as Marine Le Pen of France.

Then we have the problem in the United States where 53% of Euro-American women voted for a confessed sexual predator, that is to say Donald J. Trump. In other words, we have a similar problem on this side of the Atlantic.

The attacks on immigrants are designed to divide not only black and brown workers, but it’s also designed to separate workers who are defined as white from other workers who are not defined as white. And that is what we must combat.

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