When Donald Trump first announced he was running in the Republican primaries for the 2016 election, he signaled that his campaign would rely heavily on anti-Mexican racism, racism against all non-whites, anti-immigrant xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Part of this was his oft-repeated pledge to “build a wall” between the US and Mexico to keep out immigrants from Central America and Mexico. He slandered these migrants as rapists, murderers, thieves, drug dealers, sex traffickers and more.
That a person with such open racism was even able to be a candidate for the most powerful post in Washington is testimony to how feeble capitalist democracy has become in the US.
Now Trump, with the Republicans falling into line behind him, has partially shut down the federal government in a stalemate with the Democrats, demanding US$5 billion to begin building “the wall”. Once again Trump is ramping up his racist rants and lies to back up his demand, as he did before the midterm elections last November.
But the issue of the wall did not emerge with Trump. Justin Akers-Chacón wrote in the US Socialist Worker that Trump’s demand is “only the latest attempt to build and expand the wall. Wall construction began with Operation Gatekeeper and supplemental projects, which began under Democrat Bill Clinton and expanded over 100 to 654 miles of physical barriers under George W Bush (with majority Democratic Party support).
“Trumpism is, in fact, the progeny of 30 years of US immigration politics transmogrified into its most grotesque and violent form.”
The Democrats have positioned themselves as opponents of Trump by declaring they will not give in to his demand. But their own words show they have adopted the key rationale Trump makes for his wall: the two congressional leaders of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi in the House and Charles Schumer in the Senate, emphasise that they agree with Trump that “border security” must be ramped up. However, they call for measures other than extending the existing barriers along the southern border, which they say isn’t “effective.”
To a wall extension, they counterpose the form of border enforcement Democrats have championed. “During the eight years of the Obama administration,” Akers-Chacón points out, “there was an intensification of border enforcement that emphasized increased militarization, surveillance and armed personnel as opposed to physical wall expansion.
“This included the use of military technology and equipment repurposed from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be deployed against migrant workers and refugees on the border.
“The Democrats’ position was reflected in the observation by Representative Henry Cuellar, who ridiculed Trump’s wall as a ‘14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem’ that must be solved with a more ‘high tech’ approach.
“The Democrats ‘effective’ approach has included watchtowers, Predator drones, aerostats (blimps that hover as high as 5,000 feet), military helicopters, thousands of infrared motion and heat sensors, and other factors that contribute to a ‘virtual wall’.
“Furthermore, the Democratic Party’s trajectory during the Obama years focused on the increase in enforcement personnel and the spreading of immigrant policing throughout the interior of the country with the dramatic expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol.”
Trump rants about a “crisis” at the border in the form of an “invasion” of immigrant criminals. There is a current crisis, but not the one Trump talks about.
This crisis is one the US has created by its cruel and racist militarised attack on immigrants fleeing the poverty, drug violence, and other horrors in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. These horrors are largely the result of US imperialist exploitation for more than a century, and US-backed wars and military coups and the phony “war on drugs” in recent decades.
An example was the Barack Obama administration’s orchestrated military coup in Honduras in 2009. The coup’s point person was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She travelled to Honduras to meet with the country’s generals, and a week later they carried out the coup against the mildly progressive elected president Manuel Zeyala.
After kidnapping Zelaya, the Honduran military him to their bosses at the US military base in the country, who advised against killing him and instead had him deported to exile in Costa Rica. The Obama administration refused to label these events a coup, as this would have meant, under US law, that the US would have to break ties with the Honduran military.
Clinton arranged to allow Zeyala to return to Honduras, but not as president. She oversaw new “elections” organised by the military to establish a fig leaf for the dictatorship that then severely repressed unions, peasant groups and the anti-coup resistance. The dictatorship turned Honduras into a narco-state rife with corruption and drug money, with the concomitant blossoming of violent gangs that transformed Honduras into what has become known as the murder capital of the world.
The caravan of men, women and children fleeing these conditions, which began in Honduras and worked its way through El Salvador and Guatemala then to the US border, was a direct result of what Clinton to this day brags about as one of her finest hours.
Attacks on immigrants
Over the past year, horrors at the US-Mexico border have escalated. Children have been separated from their asylum-seeking parents, with thousands locked up in appalling conditions, among other acts of cruelty.
Two immigrant young children died in December due to a lack of medical attention for ill-health caused by the poor conditions in immigrant detention centres.
Another recent series of atrocities includes the release by ICE of some immigrants from the detention centres at bus stations in the centre of cities. He immigrants were dumped with no money and nowhere to go. Thankfully, there are reports that citizen volunteers are stepping in to aid them - a difficult task.
There is a real crisis at the border that is not part of the current discussion between the Democrats and Trump over his wall. It is increasingly swept under the rug in the mass media.
Ackers-Chacón notes: “Even the new ‘progressive’ wave of Democrats that swept into the House as a result of the midterm elections, including self-identified socialists Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib [members of the Democratic Socialists of America], fell in line. They voted along with every single House Democrat in favor of fully funding the Department of Homeland Security [which ICE is a part of] operations until February 8.
“This bill was part of a Democratic strategy to outflank Trump in a bid to get the federal government reopened – to provide ‘border security’ without funding Trump’s wall. This is a quick and shameful about-face from the ‘Abolish ICE’ position these left Democrats campaigned on.
“If both the racist and xenophobic right, rallying behind Trump’s thuggish stand on the expansion of the border wall, and liberals and ‘progressives’ in the Democratic Party accepting the premise of militarized enforcement by different means, there is little chance for resistance to develop within Washington to the further slide to the right on immigration politics.
“To actually resist Trump’s wall, there will need to be a mobilization of opposition to the underlying anti-immigrant premise embedded in both political parties.”
Ackers-Chacón concluded that the long-term solution is opposition to the “system of capitalism which profits off the subjugation and segmentation of the working class along racial and national lines”.