“Violent Animals” and an “Infestation” of Migrants; Dehumanizing Rhetoric from the Trump Administration.

Welcome to the shitshow. Today I’m gonna point out some stuff that is really, really obvious but still warrants explanation and conversation nonetheless.

As you may have heard, the latest antics of the U.S. government and our Border Patrol officers have included locking children in cages, pulling screaming and crying infants from their families while having a good ol’ laugh, drugging detained youth to sedate them at government contracted “treatment facilities,” and chasing down an SUV of migrants leading to a high-speed chase, crash, and the deaths of 5 people.

Mainstream media recently picked up on this ever-darkening story when reports of ICE losing track of 1500 children came to light, and since then a plethora of information regarding the practice of family separation, assembly line justice, and “zero tolerance” border control have been published. The White House released a nice little comeback to let us know that this wasn’t true and that they knew perfectly well where “most” of the lost children were, which doesn’t really appear to help their case much, does it? 

Just a couple weeks before that, Trump and the White House released statements calling members of the gang MS-13 “Violent animals;” you know, the gang that was started due to xenophobia and racism toward Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and made internationally notorious by Bill Clinton’s mass deportations to stem gang violence?

Now let me say here that on a basic, rhetorical level I kind of see where a right-wing politician would be able to get away with calling gang members whose motto is “rape, control, kill” animals; U.S. politicians seem to be fond of ignoring the enormous systems of inequality that we helped create, forcing  young men out of public spaces and into gangs to survive.

That being said, it is undeniable that gangs utilize brutal and ruthless methods of subjugation in Central American and Mexican communities, destroying lives and sending people fleeing to escape endemic violence. While I disagree in calling them “animals” (massive displays of violence are entirely and obviously a human thing to do, take a history class), I can at least see why on a rhetorical basis the word would be powerful and could be imagined in a situation where dehumanization was not the end goal. I tried to give the White House statement the benefit of the doubt.

But alas, I should’ve known better.

The confusion for me begins here, in that the Trump administration believes MS-13, a gang created and exported to Central America by U.S. policies and attitudes, are “violent animals,” but Trump also says that “illegal immigrants” who are fleeing that violence are going to “pour into and infest our country.” As I said before, this is all pretty obvious stuff, but I find it really hard to believe that the Trump Administration actually cares about MS-13’s violence if they’re also going to detain and deport people fleeing from gang violence and persecution in their home countries.

The problem with using dehumanizing rhetoric to characterize both perpetrators of violence and victims of said violence is that it makes it abundantly clear that the reason you’re worried isn’t the actually the violence: it’s the fact that they’re not white.

We don’t use words like “invade” and “infest” to talk about people white people from Europe who come to the U.S.. We have developed in our contemporary lexicon a word to define refugees and migrants as “illegal aliens” that utterly strips them of their humanity and makes them nothing but a legal definition that can be swept away and ignored while crisis after crisis threatens people’s lives. This rhetoric is saved for people who have fled their homes, leaving behind their livelihoods, their extended families and friends, and the lives they knew, in search of a place where they could be safe; but since they’re latinxs, it’s okay, right?

I don’t think so. I think the situation we’re in is shameful and disgusting.

To be quite frank, I think that it’s pretty rich for people who lock children in cages and tear refugee families apart, while threatening to deny them the already horrifyingly inefficient brand of justice they are even allowed, to go around banging pans together screaming “MS-13 are violent animals.”

So, how can you get involved?

You can donate money to local organizations that provide legal services for undocumented immigrants– just make sure you verify that they’re legitimate first.

You can also protest ICE, and for the Mainers reading this, yes, they’re shutting down highways all the way up by you.

Honestly, this whole situation is infuriating and painful for any reasonable person to watch, but this harsh immigration policy stuff has been going on for a long ass time, it’s time to step up and make it stop.

I wrote a paper about gang violence and media coverage in Cold War and Contemporary Latin America last semester, which you can check out here: Percepticide and Violence Against Journalists: An Analysis of Cold War and Contemporary Methods of Silencing.

If you want more info about the development of these issues, I’d suggest you check out The Daily, a podcast from the NYT with a couple excellent episodes covering recent events and highlighting the humans behind the rhetoric. In particular, “Father and Son, Forced Apart at the Border” and “What Migrants Are Fleeing” are both emotional and riveting accounts of the pain that people are going through.

If you’d want to listen to a story about the history of crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s episode of Revisionist History, General Chapman’s Last Stand.

Thanks for reading, and be good to each other out there.

Author: Braeden Waddell

Hailing from Waldoboro, Maine, Braeden Waddell is a junior at American University studying Journalism and Latin American area studies. Waddell is an avid podcast listener, an aspirational chef, and a two-wheeled transportation enthusiast currently suffering a minor setback. His long-term career goal is to work as an investigative reporter for a podcast similar to Post Reports, Reveal, or In The Dark. His choice to attend American University was inspired by desperate need to leave his 5,000-person town in rural Maine and enjoy the benefits of modernity he lacked at home, such as a cable internet and being able to go to a grocery store without seeing upwards of five people from his high school. Fun fact: Waddell only learned to ride a bike 3 weeks ago. Fun fact 2: While Waddell loves to cook, he is less knowledgeable with the art of baking. He can only bake one thing: Banana Bread. But, it’s damn good banana bread.

2 thoughts on ““Violent Animals” and an “Infestation” of Migrants; Dehumanizing Rhetoric from the Trump Administration.”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Trump doesn’t care about the violence if he’s simultaneously encouraging it at the border. Nice column.

    1. Sorry to take so long in replying, thank you very much. I know it’s all pretty straight forward, it’s obvious that Trump doesn’t respect the humanity of immigrants, but I think it’s still worth talking about no matter how normalized the hatred has become.

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