In a meeting with California officials to discuss Sanctuary Cities, Trump uttered the following: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
News outlets tended to cover this in “Trump calls immigrants animals” fashion. I’m a fan of the mainstream media and the Deep State, but as the National Review rightly points out, Trump’s use of the word “animal” was in direct response to a question about MS-13 asked by the Sheriff of Fresno County, where MS-13 gang members have been convicted of murder and gun charges.
Fine, context is important.
But the context doesn’t really make it better. Recently, one of our contributors wrote a piece on MS-13 and the cycle of dehumanization that leads to violence. (I’ll give you a minute to read it before I continue…ready?)
One could argue that the press is in the wrong here because calling Trump out for dehumanizing immigrants (which he does regularly) without specifying which particular group of immigrants he happens to be dehumanizing today actually does his work for him – contributing to the lumping together of undocumented immigrants with the small percentage of those who have committed violent crimes.
In any case, calling a particular group of people “animals” is simply an explicit articulation of his dehumanizing policies on immigration, which have a much more concrete and immediate impact on people’s daily lives. For example:
- Stripping people of TPS and shipping them back to their “shithole countries” (which actually contributes to gang violence, thus increasing the number of people seeking asylum).
- Dehumanizing children by treating that as contraband to be confiscated at the border and storing them in military installations (distorting a law, that, whatever you think of it, was originally intended to protect children from human trafficking – and turning them into mere leverage) and referring to bringing one’s own child across the border as “smuggling.”
- Dehumanizing the youth who get caught up in gang violence – “they’re not people” – by taking a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to a criminal justice that essentially does throw away the key (storing inmates in solitary confinement for years at a time, for example).
- Doing the same in federal detention centers filled not only with undocumented immigrants who have committed no other crime than existing within the borders of the United States without the right paperwork – but also with asylum seekers who have committed no crimes whatsoever (since it’s not illegal to enter the country if you’re seeking asylum).
- Forcing detainees to work for $1 a day and then requiring them to use that little bit of money to purchase food, linens, and phone calls to family, friends, lawyers – threatening them with criminal prosecution or “the sensory and psychological deprivation of their humanity resulting from solitary confinement” if they refuse (incidentally, this is pretty much the definition of human trafficking, hence SPLC’s lawsuit against CoreCivic).
When corporations become “persons,” there is a financial incentive for treating people like animals and animals like machines. If we can start to think of criminals as “animals,” the next step is to criminalize whomever we perceive as undesirable or inconvenient so that we can hand them over to the private prison industry and store them away like so much clutter. Hence the criminalization of immigration, poverty, compassion, and so on.
Justice must be re-humanized.