Esther Cepeda: Vote out officials who whip up fear of immigrants

Esther Cepeda: Vote out officials who whip up fear of immigrants

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Esther J. Cepeda

In 2011, a Kansas state lawmaker suggested shooting unlawfully present immigrants from helicopters, the way the state controlled its feral hog population.

He was building on a long history of politicians and other officials who have dehumanized undocumented immigrants, especially those at the border. In fact, in 1911, the federal Dillingham Immigration Commission stated: "We should exercise at least as much care in admitting human beings [to the United States] as we exercise in relation to animals or insect pests or disease germs."

This is why it came as no shock to learn that President Trump suggested shooting migrants in the legs to keep them from coming into the United States.

Trump said this in a fit of rage in March, while his White House aides tried to explain to him why the United States can't just shut down its 2,000-mile southern border, according to a new book, "Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration," by New York Times reporters Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Fuming and using expletives to berate his staff, Trump shouted, "I ran on this. It's my issue," according to the book.

It's also been the issue of countless hardline conservatives who took the tack of scaring fellow white people into believing that their country is being invaded, overrun, flooded and infested with "bad hombres" looking to take white people's jobs, their women and their place at the top of the pecking order in America.

The strategy has proved extremely effective thus far, for Trump and for so many others -- like eight-term Iowa Rep. Steve King, who once took a 12-foot model of a border wall to the floor of Congress. It was topped with wire that could be electrified to stop immigrants in the same way that livestock are managed.

It's a winning strategy to cast those who seek asylum from political violence and economic travail as being simultaneously super powerful in their ability to take, take, take everything America holds dear and be as intellectually backward as hogs and cattle.

Superpowered is a good way to put it, actually, considering the other ideas Trump had for controlling the border, according to "Border Wars," which was recently excerpted in the Times ahead of its Oct. 8 publication date.

There was talk of fortifying the border wall with a water-filled trench -- you don't need to be a medieval scholar to think of it as a moat -- stocked with snakes or alligators. He actually asked aides to provide him with a cost estimate.

Trump also wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh, according to the book. (The president has denied the report.)

It's borderline funny.

It has to be for the millions of people with Latin American roots to be able to live another day in a country whose president represents the very real hatred that many white Americans have about new residents from our southern neighbor and multibillion dollar trading partner.

But it's truly a laugh-so-you-don't-cry situation for the rest of us.

Mostly because crying would play into the hands of Trump and other white supremacists who hope to strike fear in the hearts of the brown people who have the nerve to demand equally funded neighborhoods and schools, and equal opportunities for access to good universities, jobs and housing stock.

Meanwhile, countless jokes and memes have been around the internet for a long time featuring Mexicans on ladders that are a few inches taller than a border wall, alligator costumes for traversing the moat and pictures of the Latino and/or Mexican laborers who'd be the ones building a big, fancy wall -- under budget and on time.

There's really nothing to be done about people who are unreasonably scared of immigrants and become enthralled with a politician who plays into those fears.

Sure, we can talk and engage in dialogues out the wazoo. But too many brown people have put in the effort only to realize that there's only so much individuals can do.

The only method that will work is to dismiss the legislators who keep stoking this fear. And for that, our white friends and allies who see people of color as more than vermin, livestock or worse will need to step up for us at the voting booth in 2020.

Esther Cepeda writes for the Washington Post.

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