Opinion: Trump’s wall and subsequent rhetoric is harmful to Latinxs

Audrey Hettleman

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By now, hearing President Trump call minorities or immigrants anything favorable would come as a shock. Many became familiar with his incendiary rhetoric towards these groups during the lead-up to his 2016 presidential campaign, during which he was famously quoted as calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.”

Since then, he has neither stopped nor slowed his efforts to label these groups, specifically Latin American immigrants, as “others,” or a part of the United States that everyone would supposedly be better off without. More recently, Trump labeled a large group of Central-American migrants moving towards the US-Mexico border as “the caravan” during the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. These two events, occurring at parallel times in different election cycles, riled up the president’s base but did little to unite the country. What both events also have in common is that Trump used them to catalyze the conversation over a border wall, a campaign promise that he seems dead set on going through with. Trump needs to let go of the wall and stop isolating Latin Americans and immigrants through his wall-related rhetoric. By focusing on more pragmatic, less symbolic solutions to the problem, Trump can avoid the incitement of strain on children of immigrants and unnecessary government spending.

The government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, 2018 and lasted 35 days until Jan. 25, was the longest in U.S. history. The shutdown stemmed from Trump and Congress’s starkly contrasting opinions on whether to build a wall or not, with the $5.7 billion price tag causing uproar from Democrats and their representatives in Congress. Their refusal to include those $5.7 billion in the budget proposal was the main reason for the shutdown.

While the wall itself has already furthered division in Congress, Trump’s tone surrounding the issue has the potential to hurt Latinx families as well. His rhetoric is extremely harmful to the mental health and well-being of Latinx families—regardless of their legal status. A study by New York University’s School of Medicine found that children of legal U.S. status who had at least one parent currently in the U.S. illegally experienced constant increased stress as a result of the current discourse surrounding immigration. By threatening the status of these families, Trump isolates not only those who entered the country illegally, but also their offspring who have always called the U.S. home.

Not only can Trump’s rhetoric affect the mental health of Latinxs, but it has the potential to hurt them physically as well. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017. And in San Francisco alone, ethnically or racially motivated hate crimes experienced an 82 percent increase that same year. Though other factors could have played a role in inciting these increases in violence, it can’t solely be a coincidence that they occurred the same year that Trump took office. Coupled with multiple incidents of promoting violence against dissenters at rallies, it becomes clearer that both his attitudes and policies favor those that are white and native born The fact that the more extreme sects of this demographic felt emboldened enough by his presence to act on racist tendencies isn’t all that unexpected.

According to a poll from Monmouth University, 44 percent of Americans support the wall. Many, including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, claim that building a wall will deter drugs and terrorists from flooding the Southern border. Others, like the president himself, claim that rising numbers of immigrants are creating a “humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” But these issues are either false or can simply be solved more efficiently in other ways. For one thing, the 4,000 “known or suspected terrorists” purportedly entering through the Southern border that Sanders cited on Fox News were actually captured at airports. According to Fox News host Chris Wallace, the state department has not reported that they found any terrorists entering the U.S. through the Southern border. As for the rising number of illegal crossings, Pew Research found the number of unauthorized immigrants from Latinx countries has been decreasing since 2007. When looking at the facts, it is clear that Trump’s aim with his immigration policies is not actually to protect American citizens, but to incite fear and division among the nation.

Just because Democrats don’t believe that a wall spanning from sea to “shiny” sea is beneficial doesn’t mean that they are against improving border security. After Trump’s primetime address on Jan. 8, both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voiced their beliefs that national security should be improved.

If the goal of building the wall is to improve border security, there are much more efficient ways to go about it. Funds should go towards improving technology surrounding security and finding ways to enforce it in difficult terrain in ways that walls can’t. In parts of the country where walls are acceptable forms of border security, like in some parts of California and Arizona, they have already been constructed. In other areas, costly walls are neither needed nor effective. According to a 2017 article from human rights organization WOLA, providing border security officers with sensors and advanced communication equipment will be both cheaper and more efficient than a wall. Advocating for something that is both physically and metaphorically divisive while at the same time ineffective does more harm than good not only for Latin Americans, but for the country as a whole.

Trump’s wall divides the 12 million Latinxs living in the U.S. from the rest of the population by placing them in a category of stereotypes that most of them do not fit. By refusing to budge from his position, Trump is preventing progress both in funding the government and bringing together our divided country. By giving up his grand plans for an unstoppable wall, he will instead be able to build bridges with the millions of Latinx Americans that are shut out by his rhetoric.