In the wake of President Donald Trump’s “shithole” comments about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, there has been an outpouring from Americans across the political divide both condemning Trump’s statement and telling stories of heroism about American immigrants from those regions.
Private Emmanuel Mensah, 28, was a Ghanaian immigrant who died last month while saving lives in the deadliest fire in more than 25 years in the Bronx, New York. Mensah repeatedly ran back into the enflamed building to rescue his neighbors.
As of 2008, African immigrants make up 4.6 percent of the 65,000 immigrants serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Latin American and Caribbean immigrants make up 38.7 percent. As of 2016, there are also over 511,000 immigrant veterans. Mexican immigrants make up 16 percent, and Haitians 3 percent of our immigrant veterans. Of our immigrant veterans, Hispanics and blacks make up 30 percent and 13 percent respectively.
In 2016, Americans united in celebrating the image of Haitian immigrant 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache as he cried during his West Point graduation ceremony.
Haitians fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and Haiti has always been a symbol of hope and liberation for black people in the Americas. My ancestors in Charleston, South Carolina escaped white oppression during the Civil War by fleeing to Haiti. Dismissing the contributions of Haiti demonstrates a profound ignorance of American history and the experiences of African Americans.
In 2009, Marines Ademola Fabayo, a Nigeria immigrant, and Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, a Mexican immigrant, were awarded the Navy Cross for their combat valor while serving in Afghanistan. Rodriguez-Chavez completed six tours with the armed services during his military career.
Trump’s comments are an insult to hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, not to mention millions more American citizens.
“I’d like to think that someone on his staff has told him now who Emmanuel Mensah was and what he did.”
Republican Congresswoman Mia Love, who is of Haitian descent, has also criticized the President’s outburst saying on Twitter that, “The President’s comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.”
However, the few conservatives who have bizarrely chosen to support Trump, such as Ben Shapiro, who eloquently said “some countries really are crappy,” have attempted to spin Trump’s language as a conversation about merit-based immigration policies. Yet that argument has no legs to stand on when you look at the immigrants from Africa, Haiti and Latin America.
In 2015, 35 percent of black immigrants from Africa age 25 and older have a college degree and only 30 percent of Americans had a college degree. Trump’s support among uneducated Americans played a vital role in him securing the presidency. Throughout his campaign Trump railed against and demonized American immigrants who were “taking” American jobs, but he always neglected to mention that on average they were more qualified and better educated than their American counterparts.
Additionally, many Haitian and Salvadorian immigrants have arrived in the United States in the aftermath of catastrophic natural disasters that have destroyed their nations. 50,000 Haitians have arrived in America since 2010 following the earthquake. Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans came after an earthquake destroyed their nation in 2001. Both of these communities face deportation because the Trump administration plans to end the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) that allowed them to immigrate to America.
TPS recipient Rodman Serrano penned an Op-ed in the New York Times about how this program has allowed his family to build a stable life in America and given him the opportunity to attend Stony Brook University. His story is the American Dream mantra that American society has repeatedly told ourselves and shared with the world, but Serrano’s dream is now in jeopardy because Trump believes that he comes from a “shithole.”
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Spanish does not have a direct translation for “shithole,” so the translation in the Spanish-language media has been “países de mierda” or “countries of shit.” The French have also done the same: “pays de merde.”
Trump has insulted everything that has come from these nations, and responding to Trump’s comments by telling recent stories of heroism from these immigrant communities only tells part of the story. America has long had immigration policies that preferred white immigrants over all others, and this has long sowed the racist seeds that Trump appears hell bent on planting.
America’s immigration policy has depended on the demonization and dehumanization of Africans as the American government forced them into slavery and literally made them build the White House, and the South’s agrarian economy. Trump’s comments follow a long line of ignorant, rich, white, property owners who insult the caliber and contributions of black people.
Trump’s entire “America First,” “Make America Great Again” agenda and especially his recent comments display a pre-civil rights era sensibility that thrives on, racism, racial division and a whites-first agenda.
America has had many immigration policies intended to sustain white “racial purity,” including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, and the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended preferential treatment for European immigrants.
Trump’s world view is an insult to American heroes of the past and present, and harkens to an American past that we cannot return to. I’d like to think that someone on his staff has told him now who Emmanuel Mensah was and what he did, and that maybe he’s had second thoughts. But I know that’s way too much to ask.