The Dehumanization of the Immigrant and Political Warfare in the U.S.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas.

by Miguel Tinker Salas and Luis Duno Gottberg

Dehumanizing the other is a prior step to the violation of their human rights. The transformation of the immigrant experience into an abstract statistic, into a criminal act, into an excuse to manipulate or settle extraneous and extemporaneous political conflicts, are forms of this erasure of the human that entails violence. This is the current case of the migrant population, which has become a wild card in political struggles within the territory of the United States.

Recent events highlight a systemic practice in which immigrants become, without knowing it, instruments of propaganda and harassment by leaders of the Republican Party. This operation is meticulously orchestrated and financed, turning a vulnerable population into chess pieces in a deeply cynical chess game.

Last June, for example, a plane from New Mexico landed in Sacramento in order to set in motion a dehumanizing choreography. In fact, a bus had even been hired to transport the newly arrived passengers to the city’s diocesan office, where the driver immediately abandoned them after disembarking. Neither the passengers nor those in charge of the diocese knew what was happening. Kidnapped under false pretenses, they were abandoned to their fate as if they were disposable beings. This is the sad reality faced by immigrants in the U.S., whose very humanity is being denied.

Interviewed by the press, these immigrants, the vast majority of whom were Venezuelan, claimed to have been “recruited” in Texas and transported to New Mexico, where they were then put on a plane to Sacramento. The person who recruited the immigrants assumed a false identity, posing as a Florida government official and, on another occasion, as a former U.S. military intelligence agent. A perverse and criminal theater (manipulating those fleeing precariousness and violence and usurping the identity of public officials) blur the ordeal of men, women and children, with the sole purpose of harassing the internal enemy in U.S. electoral contests.

Maria, a Venezuelan who walked more than 4,500 kilometers to reach the United States, said that in El Paso they had been promised work and legal advice to regularize their immigration status when they arrived in Sacramento. The story was repeated a week later, when a bus from Texas took 42 immigrants to Los Angeles. This group had applied for asylum and ended up being moved under false pretenses where their presence would simply be an instrument of siege in a political game totally unrelated to this migrant population. In both cases, had it not been for the compassion of community groups, these people would have ended up on the streets of the city.

The perverse practice of manipulating immigrants in this way began in 2022, when Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor and current presidential candidate, used state funds to recruit immigrants in San Antonio, Texas, mostly Venezuelans, to send them to Martha’s Vineyard, a luxury community and tourist site in Massachusetts. Florida’s 2022 state budget appropriated $12 million to respond to the covid emergency, and DeSantis made these funds available to facilitate the expulsion of undocumented immigrants, sending them to a part of the country governed by his political adversaries.

After Massachusetts, New York became the next destination to which immigrants were sent. According to the mayor of New York, more than 60,000 immigrants have arrived from Florida and Texas. The purpose of these operations is to collapse public services in these cities and thus provoke an anti-immigrant reaction among Americans. Read again: kidnapping tens of thousands of vulnerable people under false pretenses, and then transferring them to territories governed by a political opponent, in order to collapse public services.

The actions in New York, Sacramento and Los Angeles are the latest chapter in a malevolent policy promoted and financed by Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida. Both portray themselves as leaders of a culture war that proposes to rescue America’s supposed “traditional values.” Their actions are a logical extension of former President Donald Trump’s slogan, which proposed “Make America Great Again.” But what values do these actions embody? What greatness involves the dehumanization of others for the purpose of political gain and destroying an adversary?

The opportunistic and cruel instrumentalization of immigrants goes beyond the harassment of Democratic enclaves. The phenomenon is part of a broader cultural struggle that is presented, misleadingly, as a “values conflict.” DeSantis often says, for example, that Florida is where “progressive values come to die.”

Deploying ultra-conservative populist rhetoric that appeals to a sector of the electorate by defending the so-called “traditional family,” with the supposed protection of children, marriage and religious principles, the uses of the migrant population are part of a political war that seeks to reverse political rights acquired since the 1960s by people of color, unions, women, retirees, the LBGTI community, workers and immigrants themselves.

Insert here a strategy of international repercussions, which warns about the alleged existence of a Mexican conspiracy to flood the US with fentanyl, in order to destroy the Anglo-Saxon youth. These conservatives even dare to promote military action and even intervention in Mexican territory to wipe out organized crime.

The talk of protecting the family and protecting national health clashes with the reality of an avalanche of legislation to cut education funding, ban anti-racist teaching, abolish women’s reproductive rights, and weaken basic rights of access to health care and fair retirement. However, all this ends up invisibilized by the panic generated by a political war that convinces many Americans of the existence of a conspiracy to corrupt the national body and replace them with “people of color.” Thus, immigrants are transformed into subjects who not only seek asylum and protection, but are actually part of an invasion that would transform American culture and society into something unrecognizable and threatening.

It is easy to dismiss these incidents as isolated or simply extreme displays, in view of the upcoming presidential campaign. However, it should be remembered that, with a similar discourse, Trump won the presidency in 2016 and, in 2020, he obtained more than 70 million votes. How much will this hateful discourse permeate the population? Let’s think about that, even being impeached and facing criminal charges, polls reveal that Trump has risen in popularity and dominates among the Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination.

The sad reality is that Democrats offer few alternatives and that some responses mimic the actions of conservative politicians. Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, has begun deporting immigrants to Texas and Florida. President Joe Biden has implemented an immigration policy that is little different from that of Trump. Indeed, the number of people denied the ability to apply for asylum has skyrocketed in recent months. Although Biden canceled Title 42, implemented by Trump, he still maintains the measure that if an immigrant does not apply for asylum in the countries they passed through on their way north, they immediately lose the right to apply for asylum in the United States. As a result, the number of people rejected has skyrocketed significantly. Whereas previously 83 percent of petitions were approved, in the last month only 46 percent have been approved.

Biden continues to attempt a truly unusual strategy, which incorporates other nations in a process of “externalizing the border. He has reached agreements with Panama and Colombia to increase their military presence in the Darien plug under Operation Escudo. The operation includes U.S. funds and advisors for the deployment of these operations in which the borders of the U.S. nation are projected southward.

Although immigrants are the scapegoats of the present crisis, what is happening here cannot be reduced to a cultural war. Rather, it is about the instrumentalization of a vulnerable (or vulnerable) people within a national political conflict that will define the fate of those seeking asylum, but also the relationship with Latin America and even the nature of the very institution of democracy within the US.

Published on July 20th, 2023 in La Jornada.
Translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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