Trump’s Policies: Killing Immigrant Latino Children

As I plan a beautiful summer filled with fun with my family, my heart is heavy knowing that there are hundreds of immigrant children from Latin America who are locked up in modern day concentration camps–U.S. detention centers. These children are waking up on concrete floors, do not have access to toothbrushes, or soap, and most importantly, do not know when or if, they will ever see their families again. They are suffering both physical harm leading to deaths under our government’s watch and great psychological abuse that will create long-lasting trauma for them.

On June 21, 2019 the PBS News Hour reported on the horrible conditions in one of these detention centers in Clint, Texas where some of these immigrant Latino children from toddlers to teenagers were being held until yesterday when they were quickly relocated to another detention center. They lacked basic needs such as food, water, or proper sanitation. Willamette University law professor Warren Binford was interviewed by the News Hour after visiting the facility. She states:

Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision….We’re seeing a flu outbreak, and we’re also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It’s the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections.

Under these horrific and inhumane conditions, it should come as no surprise that children are dying under our government’s care.

President Trump’s racialized immigration policy is killing immigrant Latino children. Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody between September 2018 to May 2019 for the first time in a decade. The recent origins of this situation began last April when more than 2600 undocumented children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border and locked up in detention centers that were not designed to house children under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Child separations and detention is an example of the kind of tragic policy Bill Hong Hing argues brings shame to us as a nation and violates our constitutional rights. Hing states:

The age of hysteria over immigration in which we live leads to tragic policies that challenge us as a moral society. Policies that are unnecessarily harsh—that show a dehumanizing side of our character—are senseless. They bring shame to us as a civil society.” (2006: p. 7).

Rather than feeling shame for these appalling practices, US government lawyers have been justifying this abusive policy in the courts. Lawyers for Good Government, a nonprofit organization that formed after the election of Donald Trump, states:

The Trump administration argued in court this week that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products (like soap and toothbrushes) to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Lawyers who recently interviewed detained children report that kids are living in “traumatic and dangerous” conditions – insufficient food and water, going weeks without bathing, kids as young as 7 years old being told to care for the babies and toddlers.

These conditions will cause more deaths in these modern-day concentration camps. This weekend alone four more children under age three at a detention center in Texas, were hospitalized with life threatening conditions.

While most of the children from the Clint, Texas facility have now been moved to another detention center since the story broke, the larger problem is the underlying policy that allows for children to continue to be locked up and separated from their families. Taking them to another detention center doesn’t solve this larger policy issue, or remove the suffering these policy create.

This Administration’s cruel policy is exactly the kind of policy the President likes. Why? Because it serves his ends and displays his bully power over the most powerless. President Trump targets the vulnerable in order to please his white base, and immigrant children from Latin America are among the most vulnerable. It is a politically calculated strategy designed to gain emotional support from an anti-immigrant, and often, racist base.

Many of the greatest problems facing the Latinos stem from the consequences of the racism we have experienced in this country because of the still dominant white racial frame. Caging and abusing innocent Latino toddlers and children could only happen after centuries of the dehumanization of Latinos, who are situated within a systematic racialization of people of color in the United States. As Feagin and Cobas argue, Latinos have been and continue to exist within a particular racial frame, as part of a white-imposed “hierarchy of racialized groups in this country” (2014: p. 48). Their analysis traces the subordination of Latinos through the white racial frame, which has resulted in discriminatory actions towards them by racist whites and in continued race-based exclusion at all levels of society. They state:

For more than a century and a half, Latino groups’ positioning on this society’s racial ladder has been a powerful determinant of their members’ racialized treatment, socioeconomic opportunities, and access to various types of social capital (2014: p. 15).

It is in this context that this appalling abuse of immigrant Latino children can take place without massive large scale civil unrest by Americans throughout the nation. While there have been and are some protests developing across the globe such as the upcoming one on July 12, 2019 by the Lights for Liberty, can we imagine the continued national uproar that would occur if these children were Swedish immigrants being locked up in cages, denied beds, adequate food, water, and sanitation resulting in some of them dying? If it were Swedish immigrant children being treated the way Latino immigrant children are then more people would be protesting in the streets. This abuse will go down in history among the worst atrocities committed by the U.S. government towards people of color along with the taking of Native American children from their families, the terror of Jim Crow, or the Japanese Internment.

Donald Trump’s framing of immigrants from Latin America immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists ” proved so successful to his election to the presidency in 2016, that we should be prepared for more of what political scientist Peter Andreas calls “performative art” as the 2020 election season intensifies. And the paint is going to continue to be the blood of immigrant children.

How can we continue to dehumanize children to the point where separating them from their families and holding them in these conditions becomes our public policy? Why aren’t the Democrats calling out how this Administration’s policies are killing children? Why aren’t we insisting Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform? Why is there not greater large scale civil unrest to this situation? Why aren’t we all calling out how President Trump’s policies are killing immigrant Latino children?

As we plan for our children’s summer of fun, we should all remember there are Latino immigrant children who are interned in modern day concentration camps–alone, scared, in metal cages, and without adequate nutrition, hygiene, or medical care. They are children, just like our children. Our government and our president are treating them WORSE than animals. There are animal cruelty laws that exist that prohibit people from leaving dogs unattended in inhumane conditions. These immigrant Latino children are receiving no such protections. The contrast between our healthy kids’ lives and the lives of these Latino immigrant children is truly heartbreaking.

Trump Encourages Police to Go After Latinos

President Donald Trump spoke to a group of law enforcement officials in New York on Friday, July 28th, encouraging them to go after people of color. His message, in part, was telling them “Don’t be too nice,” to suspects taken into custody for questioning. Law enforcement officials in the background had smiles on their faces and cheered as he said:

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate…as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people….But I have a simple message today for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people. We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you. And we will deport you.

It is easy to imagine whom Trump is referring to as “animals” who should be deported here. (He has famously done something similar before in referencing later-found-innocent black teenagers in a New York City Central Park rape case.) As Natalia Molina shows in How Race is Made in America, these are old racial scripts Trump is calling upon. Racial scripts are racial messages used over and over again throughout history in ways that can be reused and understood for “new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” (Molina p. 7).

The racialization of Latinos as heavily or disproportionately gang members, as criminal aliens, and as animals has been circulating in this country for a very long time now as has been documented by Feagin and Cobas in Latinos Facing Racism. So, it is easy to imagine who Trump plans to “find,” “arrest,” “jail,” and “deport” in his “simple message” to “every gang member and criminal alien.”

President Trump then went on to say:

And when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them being thrown in. Rough. I said, Please. Don’t. Be. Too. Nice. [Laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head….I said, you can take the hand away okay.” [Police Cheers and clapping].

This message by the president contributes to systemic racism in US society, defined by Feagin and Cobas as:

[T]he persisting racial hierarchy, the discriminatory practices, and the racist institutions integral to the long-term white domination of Americans of color. This group domination involves not only racialized institutions, the macro level of oppression, but also the micro-level reality of a great many whites repeatedly discriminating in blatant, subtle, and covert ways against people of color in everyday settings (p. 14).

Yet another generation of Latinos continues to be “othered” and to experience systemic racism in American society because the president is openly encouraging law enforcement officials to vilify them. Viewing Latinos with this racialized framing underscores Leo R. Chavez’s argument that Latinos have been socially constructed as a threat in the U.S., and Trump’s remarks to law enforcement are only the latest example from the bully pulpit. In a time of increasing presidential pronouncements and tweets as a way to make public policy, it is easy to see how Trump is dehumanizing brown and black males in his statement to police.

My heart aches for adolescent Latino, Native American, Black, and other youth of color who are coming of age in a country that continues to find ways to dehumanize them. I think of my cousins, my brothers, and my oldest son who is darker than my youngest son and I fear for them all. As Native American author Sherman Alexie states in his memoir:

I never directly feared for my life and career during a Republican presidency until Trump won office” (p. 228).

This normalizing of the calls for violence against people of color by the state in President Trump’s speech to the police should cause us all to fear for our lives, families, and friends. It should cause us to fear for our very country.

While Trump’s remarks drew condemnation from law enforcement leadership across the country, the cheering of the rank-and-file in the moment to his racist and repugnant comments remains deeply disturbing. Similarly, during the election his supporters also cheered and encouraged this type of racialized hate. For Latinos and other people of color who have lived with this kind of vilification for generations, it is likely we should expect more of this to come from the president and from those who have been emboldened by what Leslie H. Picca and Joe Feagin call frontstage racism. These are very scary times we are living in for people of color when hate is being openly promoted and supported by our government leaders from the most powerful man in the U.S. down to our street-level (police) bureaucrats.

Trump’s Impact on Americans of Color

The evidence in his first 100 days — by word, deed, and policy — couldn’t be clearer. Our president does not care for people of color. No? Let’s look at the evidence. It is voluminous.

Immediately after his hallucinatory inauguration, President Donald Trump loudly reaffirmed the need to keep Mexicans out of the United States, and that a “beautiful” wall would be erected quickly to bar Mexico’s riffraff from entering our nation.

And Mexico would pay for the wall, a hot air balloon that has progressively become deflated — going from “Mexico will definitely pay for the wall,” to “well, we will impose taxes that will result in Mexico really paying for the wall,” to “OK, work with me on this —Congress will provide the money to build the wall until Mexico pays for it.” This occurs despite much evidence suggesting that the wall will not stop undocumented immigration.

A week after his inauguration, Trump decreed a travel ban affecting seven Muslim countries, which caught many people off guard and generated massive havoc for travelers worldwide. Soon afterward, a federal judge in Washington state overturned the travel ban. Trump responded with Muslim Ban Lite. He did minor tweaks, excluding Iraq from the travel ban. Shortly, two federal judges — in Hawaii and Maryland — ruled against the second travel ban.

Trump issued an executive order in late January that reaffirmed that the wall would go up and expanded the categories of people who could be deported. The order also called for a significant increase in Border Patrol agents and immigration officers. The edict also mandated an expansion of detention centers, a worrisome measure. Private detention centers, the largest run by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group, are sure to make massive profits once the Trump mass deportation machine goes into effect. As of early March, the stock value of CoreCivic had risen by 120 percent since the November election, and that of GEO increased by 80 percent.

This is a significant change from September when private detention centers were at risk of losing their contracts with the government. The Department of Justice had decided to phase out private prisons because of declining prisoner populations and major concerns about safety, security and medical care.

While the massive deportations have not yet materialized, there is intense fear in the immigrant community. That’s because even people without criminal records are potential deportees. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Session have threatened communities and counties with the loss of federal funds if they designate themselves as sanctuary cities, places that provide safe space for unauthorized immigrants — particularly those entities that do not fully cooperate with immigration officials on detainer requests. A federal judge in San Francisco recently ruled against Trump on this as well. Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — are also unsure about their security. Trump has suggested that he likes them and will not put them at risk, but there is plenty of cause in Trump’s record to worry.

Haitian immigrants who were granted special immigration status following the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 also face uncertainty as Trump has yet to renew their status. If he does not do so by July 22, approximately 50,000 Haitians risk deportation. While mass incarceration has disproportionately snared people of color over the past four decades, recent criminal justice reform represented a ray of hope.

But Trump and Sessions now seek to undo these measures. Never mind that the crime rate is about 42 percent below that in 1997. believing that the Department of Justice should not take on that role.

All these efforts will put people of color at greater risk of being racially profiled, disproportionately arrested and sentenced, and having their civil rights violated. People of color and, more broadly, the poor were targeted in Trump’s unsuccessful effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump had an embarrassing setback in not being able to eliminate Obamacare. Yet he is not giving up. He and congressional allies continue to try to dismantle Obamacare piecemeal, now concentrating on cost-share subsidies. He tried to swap $1 of such subsidies for every $1 that Democrats pony up for the border wall.

Despite the problems that plague Obamacare, it continues to be a lifeline for many people who otherwise could not afford health insurance. According to data from the American Community Survey, between 2010 (when Obamacare was signed but before it went into effect) and 2015, 26.7 million more Americans had insurance; the majority of them were white. The number of poor Americans with health care insurance rose by nearly 4.3 million during this five-year period, again with poor whites being the largest group (39 percent) of new beneficiaries. Many of these poor whites rallied behind Trump and helped put him in the White House. Obviously, Trump does not have their best interests in mind.

Trump has surrounded himself with few people of color. His Cabinet is the least diverse since that of Ronald Reagan. Nearly four-fifths of Trump’s 33 Cabinet members are white men. Only four are persons of color (two Asians, one African-American and one Latino) and merely five are women (two of whom are doing double duty as a female and a person of color). Throughout his campaign, Trump used hateful racist rhetoric against people of color. He embraced alt-right and white nationalist groups, and selected a prominent member of these groups —-Stephen Bannon—- to serve as his chief strategist.

It is not surprising that in his first 100 days as president — marked on April 29 — Trump has shown that he is not a friend of people of color. His policies and priorities are intended to firmly put people of color in their place, including through deportations and by not allowing others to enter our country. This is what he envisioned in his quest to “make America great again.” In the process, however, Trump has alienated and insulted so many groups — including people of color, the poor, women, immigrants, Muslims, the GLBTQ community and others — that he has roused the American spirit of protest. He has politicized many good people who realize they cannot accept Trump as normal and that he must be vigorously challenged.

This has the real possibility of making Trump either a one-term president or bringing about his impeachment over the numerous questionable and unethical actions that continue to pile up.

Rogelio Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy and holds the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change. (Note: This article was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on May 6, 2017.)