4 Disturbing Ways Trump Is Repeating History

History doesn't happen in a vacuum.
4 Disturbing Ways Trump Is Repeating History

President Donald Trump's constant dominance of the news cycle sure makes it feel like he's breaking bold new ground in being terrible and obnoxious. But history doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's important to remember that many of Trump's actions -- even the ones that are supposedly so far beyond the pale they practically signal the end times -- have precedents in American history. Consider how ...

America Has Turned Away Desperate Refugees Before

The Trump administration will only be accepting a historically low 18,000 refugees in 2020, down from 30,000 in 2019 and 85,000 during Obama's final year. Trump has also placed new limits on the ability for refugees to work in the country, and has cut funding to programs that help refugees find housing, food, and other essentials. So those 18,000 people won't be "welcomed" so much as "begrudgingly tolerated."

If you're not much of a numbers person, know that Trump has been complaining about refugees being "filthy," undesirable people who -- greatest of all sins -- don't immediately turn a profit for America upon their arrival from countries devastated by war or natural disasters. Remember the casual cruelty toward the supposed "gang members" who were Hurricane Dorian survivors?

4 Disturbing Ways Trump Is Repeating History
Jose Jimenez/Getty Images
What about them could possibly suggest "gang members" to Donald Trump? Perhaps we'll never know.

A refugee isn't just anyone who wants to immigrate because they long for the bucolic splendor of Minnesota in mid-February. They've been forced to leave their home due to war, persecution, etc., and they have legal rights under international law. So if a bunch show up at your border, you can't shove them in a shipping container and throw a few loaves of bread in every week. Conversely, countries taking in refugees can legally subject them to security screenings (though Fox News wants you to think you'll be forced to take an al-Shabaab militant as a roommate). While criminals do try to manipulate the process, attempts are rare. America took in 800,000 refugees between 2001 and 2016, and later arrested a grand total of five of them on terrorism charges. Worldwide, refugees are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, because their vulnerable status makes them easy to scapegoat.

But that scapegoating can sure be convenient if your disdain for helping foreigners is a feature and not a flaw for your supporters. In 1942, a ship full of Jewish refugees arrived in New York City, and a Gestapo agent was among them. He was caught during the screening process and put on trial, and that was all that was needed to start the scaremongering. An American ambassador blamed the fall of France on a vast refugee spy ring, and Roosevelt himself argued that refugees had been coerced into spying -- all without a shred of proof.

In 1938, America received 125,000 visa applications from Germany and annexed Austria, but only accepted 27,000. And restrictions only tightened as the war went on and the immigration crisis grew. By the end of 1944, at which point the Holocaust was becoming well-known, Roosevelt was advised to reject all refugees. A Treasury Department report that called the State Department "guilty not only of gross procrastination and wilful failure to act, but even of wilful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler" finally convinced Roosevelt to accept tens of thousands of people. But that wasn't much help to those who had already been rejected and forced back home to face death.

For all the fears of dramatic terrorism, the real risk is in innocent people quietly dying in the bowels of the system they're trapped in. But hell, at least back then, they had the "We're at war" excuse, instead of "Those dark-skinned folks don't spend much money on our president's properties."

Related: 5 Ways Donald Trump Perfectly Mirrors Hitler's Rise To Power

Trump's Unfocused Crackdown On Refugees Was Predated By Eisenhower's

Surprisingly, the Trump administration has deported far fewer undocumented immigrants than Obama, Bush, and Clinton. In 2012, the Obama administration deported 409,849 people, while Trump has yet to top 260,000 in a year. But it's not the raw numbers that are the problem; it's the approach.

Previous deportation efforts focused on people with criminal records and new arrivals who hadn't begun to contribute to the economy, start a family, etc. Children were protected, and undocumented immigrants who'd already put down roots weren't emphasized. Trump's efforts have been geographically broader, and family-focused in the worst sense of the term. These are people who, for various legal reasons, are entitled to due process in front of an overworked immigration court system, and that means ICE jails are jammed full of immigrants stuck in limbo. While deportation numbers are down, the government is holding more immigrants than ever before, and has initiated more deportation proceedings than at any point in the last 25 years.

4 Disturbing Ways Trump Is Repeating History
John Moore/Getty Images
And that's been going swell so far.

Undocumented immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than American citizens. (If you're a hardened career criminal, why make the difficult journey to a country that's specifically worried about you, assuming you've stayed out of jail at home long enough to even try?) Most just overstayed their visas, like the case of a man who arrived in America on a temporary work visa in 2006, then applied for asylum in a process that wasn't rejected until 2011, at which point he had fathered three U.S. citizens. So he stuck around. He wasn't considered a priority for deportation because he had no criminal record, and now he's languished in an overcrowded ICE cell for over 700 days with no clear bureaucratic solution to his status.

Targeting the parents of US citizens, indigent people who can't afford lawyers, and others who were long considered low risk creates an expensive, morally dubious legal quagmire from which there is no easy exit. Non-criminal immigrants are spending more time incarcerated than actual American criminals.

But history has already shown that mass unfocused deportations are a bad approach. In 1954, the Eisenhower administration began an initiative with the very yikes name of "Operation Wetback." Citing the old "They're taking our jobs" canard, the military swept the border and border states, even as American farmers complained they were losing laborers. While the country needed immigration reform, the unfocused "Just grab whoever looks swarthy" operation meant that legal immigrants and even American citizens were swept up in the chaos. Heat exposure killed 88 detained workers, five drowned during a riot on an overcrowded ship, and many of the hundreds of thousands of deportees suddenly found themselves without a home, work, or food. All this hurt U.S.-Mexican relations, which were supposed to have been improved by this.

It's not a perfect metaphor, as the operation targeted seasonal workers and was meant to hurt the Americans who employed those workers as cheap illegal labor. But it was still a violent scaremongering stunt -- which in 1956 was declared a sweeping success that had basically solved illegal immigration forever, despite all evidence to the contrary. So Trump has that whole spirit going for him, even if his numbers aren't there yet.

Related: Donald Trump Is The JFK For Millennials (Seriously, Folks)

Internment Camps Were Around In America During World War II

Hopefully you're well-aware that between 1942 and 1946, around 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in camps throughout the country due to the racist paranoia that they were all spies and saboteurs waiting to strike. If you were not aware, boy howdy is this a bad day for you. Most of those folks were American citizens, and many were second- or even third-generation Americans, but the loyalty of anyone with "one drop of Japanese blood" was declared suspect, because the Japanese had a "record for conscienceless treachery unsurpassed in history."

Some newspapers were not shy about declaring their hope that their neighbors would never return. Others made the dubious claim that any true Americans among the detainees would understand and not object -- an argument that's convenient when you're not the one having your house seized and your possessions stolen. Ironically, the mass removal of Japanese Americans contributed to a labor shortage that prompted the government to encourage immigration from Mexico, but that's a story for another time.

Life in the camps was rough. They were overcrowded, disease and food poisoning was common, and educational efforts for children were inept. Basically, the government hadn't planned for them, and it showed. 1,862 people died from illness, and seven were shot.

But for all the problems the camps had, at least their occupants were generally allowed to stay together as families, and they were run by the government instead of for a profit. The Trump administration has separated migrant children from their parents, and private companies are profiting from it. At one point, there were even plans to jail children at a fort previously used for Japanese Americans, before protesters convinced the government that they shouldn't be quite that literal when repeating history.

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Dr. Suess/PM
At least in 2019, Dr. Suess is too dead to break our hearts again with a follow-up to this shit.

The private prison firm GEO Group has picked up a nearly $500 million contract to imprison immigrants, while CoreCivic has picked up $110 million. Both have kicked in hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Trump initiatives (including his inauguration fund), and GEO moved their annual conference to a Trump hotel. It's unclear where all that money is going, as multiple investigations into private camps have uncovered deplorable conditions -- overcrowding, tainted food and water, a complete lack of sanitation, hygiene, or medical care, as well as beatings by guards. But hey, an omelette at a Trump hotel conference is probably like 18 bucks, so who are the real victims here?

One camp for separated children is costing $775 per child per day. It's not because those kids are living in luxury; it's because the administration insisted on setting up tents in the desert that are far more expensive to maintain than the roughly $298-a-day preexisting facilities that allow families to stay together. It's more expensive to separate kids, but how can you give kickbacks to your buds if you don't create a need for new facilities mired in squalor? Even if you're a heartless monster and so only worried about all that from a cost perspective, it's worth noting that in 1988, Reagan signed a law that led to $1.6 billion in reparations for formerly interned Japanese Americans and their descendants. So keep an eye out for that developing story 40 years down the line.

Related: 4 Signs President Trump Is Headed For A Hitler-Like Reign

Trump's Immigration Policy Has Its Roots In The Biases Of The 1800s

Many Trump supporters will tell you that they have no issues with immigrants; they merely want the country to embrace immigrants who arrive legally. Even better, these immigrants should already speak our language, share our values, have the skills and finances necessary to support themselves, and not have split loyalties thanks to their love of their homeland's strange leaders and heathen religions.

And if that rules out all those weird Germans, Italians, and Irish, well, so be it, right? It's not like we could ever really trust those non-Anglo Pope-lovers anyway.

Yeah, the image of a desirable immigrant has changed a bit since the 1840s. Trump is currently trying to implement policies that would allow potential immigrants to be rejected if they are "likely to be a public charge" -- as in, if they require social services, English lessons, etc. Immigrants without health insurance or the finances to pay for healthcare have also been targeted, as are those who are trying to bring over family members. A variety of laws and executive orders have been used to accomplish these goals, though some of them are now being held up in court. But, long story of human misery short, they have already been effective in forcing immigrants to drop out of (or never sign up for) services they need, for fear that it will lead to them being punished.

The standards may be stringent, but people from around the world could potentially meet them, right? Not really, because they're based on a fundamental lie (those hippies at the Cato Institute found that, per capita, immigrants use about 61% of the public services that American citizens do). And laws have long been used to target specific groups under the thin veneer of economic desirability, right down to that "public charge" phrasing.

In the 1800s, Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, and Chinese were among the people who faced strict immigration quotas, while Northern and Western Europeans had relatively easy access. The Irish, for example, were trying to escape poverty and famine, but faced stereotyping as drunken disease-carrying reprobates who weren't the right kind of white and would pollute America with the nefarious influence of the Vatican. Here in 2019, an asylum officer turned whistleblower pointed out that Trump's new policy of forcing Hispanic and Latin American asylum applicants to wait in, or be sent back to, countries where their lives are at risk appears to serve no purpose beyond punishing people whom the president has dismissed as criminals and rapists.

Trump is also making it much harder for valuable international students and skilled workers to arrive, so it's unclear what he's trying to accomplish beyond pleasing the people who scream the loudest at his rallies. But if there's a lesson in all of this, it's that today's prejudices are tomorrow's relics. If you make a YouTube video about how all those Pope-loving, potato-eating Irish monsters are overrunning America, even the lunatics would think you were a lunatic. So check back in a few decades, when the children of the immigrants who are viewed with intense suspicion today are considered mundane Americans who can join us in fearing the apocalyptic arrival of whoever we'll be hating by then. Australians, maybe?

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.

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