So by now we've all heard. President Trump, in an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of senators, apparently referred to "shithole countries" whose nationals should not be welcomed in the US. The meeting was ostensibly on possibilities for a compromise immigration deal to protect the now suspended DACA program in exchange for Democratic support for some version of Trump's border wall. But the comment evidently came up regarding Trump's decision to end Temporary Protected Status for folks from Haiti, El Salvador and several African countries. According to sources speaking to the Washington Post, Trump said: "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump suggested the US should instead bring more people from countries such as (white) Norway. "Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump is reported to have said. "Take them out."
Trump, evidently, would bring the US back nearly a century, to when the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) established restrictive "quotas" from countries whose inhabitants were deemed undersirable, essentially cutting off immigration of Jews, Italians and Slavs. It also completely barred entry of Asians, finishing the work started with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. When all that nonsense was overturned by Congress in the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1964 (Hart-Celler Act), a new general consensus was forged that it had all been racist and oppressive, and was consigned to the nation's past.
The fact that such thinking is being revived by the current occupant of the Oval Office is evidence of how dangerous and reactionary he and his supporters really are. They are trying to roll back generations of social progress. We cannot allow this kind of talk to be mainstreamed and become acceptable. The sooner he and his ilk are laughed off the political stage, the less lasting damage will be done to our democracy and our political culture.
And furthermore… What made these countries "shitholes," if by "shitholes" we mean places with deep poverty and chronic instability? The very "free trade" policies aggressively promoted by the United States over the past generations! As our contributor David Wilson wrote after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti:
Haiti pioneered export-based development plans in the 1970s under [US-backed dictator] Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc"). Once assembly plants started operating in Haiti, other parts of the region followed suit under the Reagan administration's 1984 Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). The brief boom in the Caribbean apparel industry ended when jobs started going to Mexico because of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexican workers became still more "competitive" after 1994, thanks to an economic crisis and a currency devaluation (a de facto wage cut). The Mexicans in turn lost jobs to lower-paid Chinese workers as the new millennium started. Dominican and Central American manufacturers responded with DR-CAFTA and, predictably, more wage cuts. And yet the job losses have continued.
And even while it lasted, the job growth was insufficient to absorb all of those displaced from traditional economies by the "free trade" order. It was the expropriation of the Mexican peasantry by the flooding of the country with cheap US ag-biz corn and the privatization of their collective land-holdings after NAFTA that unleashed the subsequent waves of Mexican migration to Gringolandia. And now this history is repeating itself with CAFTA. It undermined the traditional peasant economy in Central America, and the narco-economy filled the vaccum, unleashing the violence that is now driving migrants north. Salvadorans were granted Temporary Protected Status after their country was devastated by multiple earthquakes in 2001, but there have since been calls to extend it to other Central American nations in response to the endemic narco-violence.
A final point is that left-populist governments in Central America and the Caribbean that sought to deviate from the "free trade" consensus have been overthrown in right-wing coups d'etat in which the US has, to degrees, acquiesced—with strong evidence of actual collaboration or direction by elements of the Washington intelligence establishment. The most recent obvious examples are Haiti 2004 and Honduras 2009.
And this same pattern of "free trade" aggressively promoted by the US and other neocolonial powers displacing peasant economies and deepening poverty has also been seen over the past generation in Africa.
Trump exploited legitimate anger over NAFTA, which fucked over working people both sides of the border. But this latest outburst shows again how he is linking rejection of "free trade" to the ugliest xenophobia. It's our job to build cross-border solidarity against both the "free trade" order and Trump's xenophobic police state.