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Jeremy Scahill: Trump’s Xenophobia Is Horrific, But U.S. Immigration Policy Has Always Been Racist

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In Part 2 of our discussion of the Trump era with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill about his new seven-part audio documentary “American Mythology,” he examines how Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies have been a “methodical, surgical operation” to make life miserable for both current and prospective immigrants, including asylum seekers fleeing violence. He also notes that while Trump’s policies have been particularly vicious, “this country has had a racist immigration policy for a very long time, and it’s bipartisan.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Which takes us from racism to xenophobia, part two of your audio documentary series American Mythology called “Administration of Xenophobia.” This clip begins with you, Jeremy Scahill.

JEREMY SCAHILL: From the beginning, Trump’s approach to upending immigration in the country has been met with legal challenges, including on DACA and family separation. While those challenges wind their way through the courts, the Trump administration has also developed a sophisticated strategy of implementing interlocking changes that will be difficult to undo. Recent analysis from the Migration Policy Institute finds that the administration has adopted more than 400 changes to immigration rules and regulations. Journalist Juan González has written several books dealing with the history of U.S. immigration policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The fascist trend, represented by President Trump, wants to totally reverse immigration policy to, instead of saying, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” “Give me your best-educated people, who have the most money, who can buy — essentially, buy their way into the United States.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democracy Now! co-host Juan González in Jeremy Scahill’s series America Mythology. Jeremy, take it from there. The Trump administration has succeeded in essentially ending asylum in America.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, and virtually shut down the southern border, for all practical purposes. And what I think is important to remember is that Trump also — as we just heard, his administration has tinkered with more than 400 different aspects of immigration policy. And in the sort of most overt or tangible way, you’re citing the rules on asylum, but also making it much more difficult, much more expensive just for run-of-the-mill, normal immigration procedures.

And what we’ve seen is this sort of methodical, surgical operation to go through and make life as miserable and difficult as possible for current immigrants who are already here, but also prospective immigrants, including children, who are fleeing legitimate violence. And by the way, we should mention that many of the countries in Central America where people are fleeing from, the violence in those countries is largely a product of U.S. dirty wars that were waged throughout the '80s and ’90s and the U.S. support for death squads and civil wars and dictators. And that's almost never discussed when we talk about the broader so-called crackdown on immigration.

But all of this is the architecture of one of the most vile people to serve in government in modern times, and that is Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller. You know, this was a kind of pathetic, angry white guy in college who felt that the Black people and the immigrants were all ruining his opportunities in the world. And you sort of unleash this unstable, nasty, angry, hateful man with the levers of power to write immigration policy. And what we’re seeing is this very overt racism.

And I would link this, Amy, also to the way that Donald Trump talks about Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minneapolis, who herself was a refugee from Somalia. You know, Trump has used, on the one hand, Chicago as a placeholder to attack Black America as sort of violent people who need to be put in their place, and he uses Ilhan Omar to attack immigrants writ large, but specifically to say, “Black immigrants are the problem. You know, these people from Somalia, they don’t even have a government where she’s from. And then she comes here.” Ilhan Omar is a U.S. citizen. Ilhan Omar was a refugee, who fled a country where — you know, many people probably have seen the film Black Hawk Down. The United States was deeply involved with the horrid destabilization of the country that she fled. And her story is a classic American one. She left a violent place where she didn’t have freedom, and came to the United States seeking a better life, mobilized and organized herself and became a member of the United States House of Representatives, democratically elected.

So, you know, when you look at the broader immigration picture in this country, on the one hand, there’s the policy. On the other hand, this is a classic authoritarian tactic to tell the, quote-unquote, “real citizens” of the country that the problem is the dirty, filthy vermin that come in the form of the outsider. And that’s what Trump is doing. And it’s what despots have done throughout history.

But Trump is only the frontman for this, Amy. Bipartisan Democratic-Republican immigration policy for decades has targeted immigrants in a merciless way. Bill Clinton started this business with expanding the border wall and building fences and propping up paramilitary law enforcement. George Bush doubled down on it. Barack Obama also was — he earned the moniker of the “deporter-in-chief” from immigrant rights activists because he deported record numbers of people. Three million people were deported under Barack Obama. And the Democrats are running Joe Biden as a candidate, and Joe Biden represents some of the absolute most right-wing aspects of the history of the modern Democratic Party, including on immigration. Now he’s saying that he’s shifting some of that. And I do think there are very, very clear, tangible ways that Joe Biden would take away some of the imminent threat to immigrants, but let’s not pretend that Donald Trump just popped up, and all of a sudden we have a racist immigration policy. This country has had a racist immigration policy for a very long time, and it’s bipartisan, with the Republicans being much more vicious, but it’s been bipartisan.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you look back over these last four years, let’s not forget the word he used as he talked about — and I won’t say the word, but “S—hole countries,” that include African countries, as well as Haiti, in Trump’s book. And in a notification sent by Trump administration to Congress late last month, the administration proposed denying most refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen. And just this past weekend, in the last days, the Trump administration put out a press release saying they had arrested 170, quote, “aliens” — of course, we don’t use that word — said they arrested 170 people, targeting sanctuary cities.

Jeremy Scahill, we have break. When we come back, we want to look at your — the America Mythology documentary that you dropped today, that you released today, on war. Stay with us.

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Jeremy Scahill: “Trump Is Not the Root of the Problem, He Is a Product of American Imperial History”

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