Although Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is shocking, suggesting border patrol should shoot border crossing immigrants in the legs, his policies are an intensification of policies that began under Obama, not a dramatic departure, says Aviva Chomsky.
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
A soon to be published book reveals that last March, President Trump suggested shooting refugees who try to cross the border in their legs, making moats and filling them with snakes and alligators, and building a spiked electrified wall to maim or kill anyone who tries to cross the border. The authors of the book that presented these revelations are two New York Times journalists, Michael Shear and Julie Hirschfeld. The book is titled “Border Wars: Inside the Trump Administration’s Assault on Immigration,” which will be released next week. But it was excerpted in The New York Times on Tuesday. President Trump, however, denied the author’s portrayal of his discussion of this border war.
DONALD TRUMP: These two reporters wrote this book. And they said I want a moat with alligators, snakes, electrified fences so people get electrocuted if they so much just touch the fence and spikes on top. Never said it, never thought of it. And I actually put out something on social media today. I said, “I’m tough on the border, but I’m not that tough.” Okay, it was a lie. Just so you have it, you asked the question. It was a total lie, it was corrupt reporting, okay? Thank you very much.
GREG WILPERT: It should be noted that when Trump allegedly made the suggestions to shoot refugees or build deadly obstacles, his aides told him repeatedly that such measures would be illegal. Now, in a related development; late last September, president Trump announced also that he would reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States by nearly half, from 30,000 to 18,000 over the next 12 months. This is about one sixth the number that were admitted in the last year of the Obama administration.
Joining me now to discuss these latest developments in Trump’s immigration policies is Aviva Chomsky. She’s professor of history and Coordinator of the Latin American Studies Program at Salem State University. Her most recent book is “Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.” Thanks for joining us again, Aviva.
AVIVA CHOMSKY: Thanks for having me.
GREG WILPERT: So, just how significant would you say are these revelations about Trump’s desire to shoot, maim and kill people at the border assuming that this is true?
AVIVA CHOMSKY: That’s a hard question to answer. We keep hearing about how polarized the country is, and the country is indeed polarized. For people who are supporters of immigrant rights, these quotes are horrifying. For many people in Trump’s space who just eat up his anti-immigrant rhetoric, they are just more fuel for the fire; they love it. Are these things that are going to turn Trump supporters against him? I don’t think so, because I think… And they shouldn’t really be that surprising to anybody either because we already know that Trump has a very loose mouth. We already know that he loves bullying and insulting and using things that in our schools would be considered very inappropriate actions in language.
I guess one other thing: Do the things that Trump says incite violence? I think they do. But is this all that different from everything that he’s been saying? Should we be surprised at this? I wasn’t particularly surprised. I feel like it’s in line with the way he’s been using rhetoric. And you can already see that the Democrats, the bleeding heart liberals, are going to be talking about how awful this is. And a Democrat or a real Republican would never have said that. And Trump’s space is going to be saying, “Yeah, give us more.”
GREG WILPERT: You mentioned the possibility of incitement against refugees. Now, I’m wondering, against that is on whose part? I mean, one is obviously the base, but on the other hand, I mean, we’ve seen already that there’ve been a number of kinds of scary expressions on the part of the border patrol. And I’m just wondering, to what extent do you think this will have also an effect, not just on the border patrol, but also on the ICE workers and maybe even people who are guarding migration detention centers? What effect do you think this would have on all of these people who are involved in actually enforcing Trump’s policies?
AVIVA CHOMSKY: I’m not sure it’s going to have a huge effect. Because again, I don’t see it as anything qualitatively or quantitatively that different from what we’ve been hearing. He’s excessive in his language, but he’s always been excessive in his language. Racism and violence against immigrants on the part of ICE, and gratuitous cruelty on the part of ICE and the border patrol is already going on. I don’t think they really need any further incitement to make it worse. But I guess one other thing that I want to emphasize here is that while Trump’s bullying language is very different from what we hear from liberal Democrats, his policies are not all that different. So his manner is very different, but his policies are not that dramatic a departure from what we have seen going on for the entirety of US history. In some ways he’s just bringing out in the open and saying openly things that Democrats do but more politely.
GREG WILPERT: Well, actually that’s the thing that I wanted to turn to the next, which is precisely the policies, on the one hand we’ve got the rhetoric, which has certainly increased, that’s turned to the question of policies. I mean, I mentioned in the introduction that he was reducing the cap on immigrants from 30,000 to 18,000, not on immigrants, that is on refugees from 30,000 to 18,000. And that’s only one sixth of the last year of the Obama administration’s cap. So, doesn’t that signify a clear distinction? And this also comes on top of a decision earlier this year to make it practically impossible for refugees from Central America to apply for asylum in the United States. What does this really mean for the right to asylum, which is supposed to be a human right? I mean, shouldn’t the international community actually be an uproar? And wouldn’t this be a clear departure, really, from the previous administration?
AVIVA CHOMSKY: I don’t think it’s a clear departure at all. Let’s distinguish between asylum and refugee status because they’re two different things, and they’re two very different pieces of Immigration Law. The recent lowering of the quota is for refugees. Refugees are people who apply for status inside their own countries, they then go through a long period of vetting and bureaucracy, and at the end of one to two or even more years, a person can be approved for refugee status. Now, there’s a numerical quota for refugees, the United States has always maintained a numerical quota for refugees. Compared to other countries in the world, we have an extraordinarily low quota for refugees, we did way before Trump came into office.
If we just look back on refugee policy a little bit, after World War II is when the United Nations created its definition of a refugee under international law, the right of people to seek refuge. The United States never bought into that. The United States very clearly define refugees not as people fleeing political persecution, but as people fleeing from communism. Until 1980 our refugee law only applied to people from communist countries. And even after 1980, under the Carter administration, when the new definition of refugees brought us into alignment with International Law, the United States still overwhelmingly denied refugee status and asylum to people fleeing violence in Central America. So that’s nothing new.
Asylum is something different from refugee status. Asylum is a status that you ask for inside the United States, or when you arrive at the border of the United States. There’s no numerical limit on asylum. But, Central American refugees, especially those from Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, and Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador now, have been overwhelmingly discriminated against under asylum process. Under the refugees from communism, which was the longest period of the US history of US Refugee Law, most refugees, most people receiving asylum or refugee status, came from three countries, Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Cuba. It really had little to do with levels of persecution and everything to do with politics.
Now, in terms of refugees… So we need to talk about them separately. Refugees dropping it from 30,000 to 20,000, there are many countries in the world that have accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, even over a million refugees. The United States has never had a generous refugee policy. Yes, it’s getting worse, but no, it was not humanitarian and generous to begin with. In terms of asylum, this has also been a major focus. Trump has been cutting down on allowing Central Americans into the country, or even to get to the border in order to claim their legal right to asylum. But this, again, is not something that started with Trump. The Mexican Southern border project was something started under the Obama administration to try to prevent people from even reaching the US border by forcing Mexico to stop them on the Southern border and helping Mexico to militarize its Southern border.
So yes, things are getting worse, they’re getting much worse, but they were not good to begin with. And I wouldn’t say it’s a radical departure, I would say it’s an exaggeration of some of the ugliest features. But one of the reasons that we’re hearing about it more now is partisan, that Democrats when it was Obama putting these things into place, liberal Democrats didn’t want to critique it. Now that it’s Trump, liberal Democrats are much more open about what they think is wrong with it.
GREG WILPERT: Okay. I think that’s a very interesting, very important point, that this is basically a continuation of policies that were begun under the Obama administration and before. And also, I really appreciate your distinction that I glossed over between asylum seekers and refugees, so that’s a very important thing to keep in mind. But we’re going to leave it there for now.
I was speaking to Aviva Chomsky, professor of history at Salem State University, Massachusetts. Thanks again, Aviva, for having joined us today.
AVIVA CHOMSKY: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me on.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.
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