Donald Trump and his administration are escalating their racist crusade against the undocumented.
Trump and Co.’s xenophobic ranting isn’t just sickening. The repeated use of the word “animals” is intended to dehumanize the desperate people who reach the US border with Mexico, having fled violence and repression.
This is certain to embolden racist vigilantes and immigration authorities alike — and lead to more horrors like the murder of Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a 19-year-old from Guatemala who was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent in late May while crossing into the US.
Dominga Vicente, Claudia’s aunt, sent a heartbreaking message about her niece: “To the government of the United States, I ask you do not treat us like this — like animals — just because you are a powerful, developed country.”
But that is exactly what the Trump administration intends. Five days before Claudia was shot down, the official White House website published a statement titled “What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13,” an inflammatory memo graphically describing several instances of extreme violence associated with members of the notorious gang that is based in El Salvador, but formed in the US in the 1980s.
In less than 500 words, the author of the statement managed to use the word “animals” a total of 10 times.
This was an obvious attempt to double down on Trump’s comments the previous week during a roundtable discussion with state and local leaders on California’s sanctuary laws, which the Justice Department is trying to overturn in court.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them …you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump fumed. “These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
This was just the latest of Trump’s off-script outbursts. But the decision to publish this vicious memo on the White House website marks a significant escalation in the official narrative of the administration.
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Among claims made by the White House is that MS-13 gang leaders based in El Salvador are illegally “sending representatives” to the US to connect with leaders of local gangs, directing them to “become even more violent in an effort to control more territory.”
Trump used similarly questionable logic to justify sending National Guard troops to the border to stop a caravan of refugees back in April.
The truth is that the US government’s imperialist meddling in Central America and its inhumane immigration enforcement apparatus have been decisive in fomenting instability in Central America and creating the conditions at home and abroad that led to the formation of MS-13 and the threat the gang poses today.
MS-13 was founded behind prison walls in Los Angeles, not El Salvador — and deportations have fueled its expansion and growth to this day. As SocialistWorker.org previously explained:
Through the 1980s, the US experienced an influx of refugees looking to escape the violence of the civil war in El Salvador, a conflict that began in 1979, pitting the US-backed government against a coalition of left-wing groups, with armed guerilla wings, called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front…
With conflict disrupting El Salvador’s economy, Salvadorans who fled the country did so as much to find work as to escape violence. Some left with their families to build new lives, but many made the difficult decision of leaving their families behind and sending money back.
Those who arrived in cities across the US — particularly Los Angeles — experienced hostility and alienation. Parents struggled to find work, and many worked multiple jobs. Refugee youth felt compelled to join or create gangs to protect themselves and their communities. One of these gangs eventually became Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. It originated in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and eventually spread to other metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York City and others.
Later, gangs such as MS-13 were exported back to El Salvador and other Central American countries with the upsurge in deportations of immigrants with criminal records in the 1990s and after.
The damage done by US support for Central American oligarchs and paramilitary death squads was compounded by the disastrous “war on drugs” — something that Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in continuing.
As author Justin Akers Chacon wrote when Trump’s predecessor oversaw an intense border enforcement operation in 2014 against a stream of child migrants fleeing Central America:
Since 2010, the Obama administration has funded the Central America Regional Security Initiative to arm allied Central American governments to suppress the drug trade. To date, this initiative has provided nearly $1 billion in military equipment, training and support to fight the war, but has only increased internal violence without stopping drugs or the cartels. Homicide rates have increased nearly 100 percent since its implementation.
Far from meeting their objectives, the so-called “solutions” that both parties have pushed on Central American governments — from anti-gang task forces to the “War on Drugs” — have reproduced gang violence that first emerged in the US and ensured its continued existence, along with the erosion of civil liberties for all Salvadorans.
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US military intervention, neoliberal trade and economic policies, the “war on drugs” crusade, intensifying immigration enforcement in the US — all of these lie at the root of gang violence in El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America. But this is never acknowledged in the US, especially by the Trump administration.
Amnesia about the violence wrought by US policies is a key part of the dehumanization and lack of compassion for immigrants, migrants and refugees from Latin America. If the US doesn’t bear any responsibility, then people coming to the US can be blamed for the conditions they are fleeing — and treated as less than a human being.
While a majority of Americans oppose Trumpian levels of anti-immigrant bigotry, the toxic rhetoric and constant lies about immigrants being responsible for criminal activity have an effect.
Immigrants are seen in black and white terms — either potential workers or potential criminals. This binary, though seemingly innocuous, fits in with Trump’s discourse about immigrants as “animals.” And the rhetorical gymnastics of the Trump administration reflect decades of mutually reinforcing, dehumanizing rhetoric and policies pushed by Republicans and Democrats alike.
After all, Democrat Barack Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president — and his excuse for turning up the deportation machine was that federal authorities were only expelling the “bad” immigrants with criminal records.
Though the Democrats criticize Trump, the truth is that Obama paved the way for his cruder scapegoating of immigrants as “criminals.”
As the Trump administration continues to intensify its anti-immigrant assault, it is vital to fight not only for the recognition of the full humanity of all immigrants. Trump has declared his intent in regards to MS-13 — he sees them as animals and will treat them as such. It is only a matter of time before his sick logic is extended further.
Working people must stand in solidarity with immigrants, as workers and people in struggle, and acknowledge wider global solidarity. We can take inspiration from rank-and-file efforts to pressure their unions to do sanctuary work. The fight against neoliberalism and the right’s anti-labor agenda is directly tied to the struggle throughout Latin America.
Our solidarity and our struggle should strive to reassert our humanity — and recognize that the current victimization of immigrants has always been part of US history, and thus the struggle for immigrant rights must be part of the anti-capitalist, working class struggle.