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Trump’s Political Theatrics Could Cost Lives

By UUSC Staff on November 2, 2018

In a grossly misleading speech Thursday, Donald Trump made another cruel effort to portray refugees from Central America as a threat, echoing themes from a racist attack ad he endorsed just days before the U.S. midterm elections. Showing contempt for human rights and the rule of law, Trump threatened the nation with an executive order that would supposedly deny the right to seek asylum to all people who cross the U.S. border outside ports of entry.

As with Trump’s threat earlier this week to revoke the Constitutional right to citizenship at birth by executive order, this proposal is so blatantly unlawful as to be absurd. The first sentence of the U.S. asylum statute grants the right to apply for asylum to anyone who is “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States [whether or not at a designated port of arrival.]” The U.S. President is not above the law and cannot overrule fundamental Constitutional or legal protections on a whim.

While Trump’s words are obvious political pandering, however, they have real consequences. When the President puts his name to racist campaign materials – or threatens to trample the legal rights of whole groups of people – it violates fundamental norms of a multiracial democracy, signaling that immigrants and people of color are not full members of society.

Similarly, Trump’s claims to reporters that that he has ordered U.S. troops at the border to consider rock-throwing as equivalent to carrying firearms gives the impression of official approval for recent extrajudicial killings of migrants and asylum-seekers by armed U.S. officials. Sixteen-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed in 2012 by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, allegedly for throwing rocks. Last May, an unarmed 20-year-old Maya indigenous woman from Guatemala, Claudia Gomez Gonzalez, was shot dead by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, allegedly after “rushing” the armed agent.

As with Trump’s previous statements appearing to endorse police brutality and praising torture, his remarks signal disregard for human rights and approval of impunity from the highest levels of government.

Finally, Trump’s comments are an effort to legitimize the devastating violence his administration has already inflicted on asylum-seekers, including the family separation policy that has left at least 50 children deprived of their parents. While his absurd proposal to overthrow the asylum statute is not likely to pass muster, this cannot minimize the fact that his administration has already taken real steps to radically undermine access to asylum, including by threatening indefinite detention of children, preventing survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence from making asylum claims, and terminating a program that could have saved the lives of thousands of Central American refugee children.

Trump’s actions betray a profound moral cowardice, dressed up in bellicose rhetoric. There is no courage in deploying the world’s most powerful military to meet defenseless civilians, who are only exercising their rights under international law. Real courage is found among the Central American asylum-seekers who risk everything to get themselves and their loved ones to safety.

UUSC takes inspiration from the caravan this week and refuses to be distracted or divided by fear. Upcoming national elections are a chance for U.S. voters to defend our shared commitment to human rights and the vision of a genuine multiracial democracy. UUSC supporters can also take action now and in the coming weeks to volunteer with organizations serving refugees and migrants at the southern U.S. border, submit public comments opposing family detention, and speak out against the U.S. policies that fuel forced migration from Central America.

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