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Antonio De Loera-BrustJanuary 22, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members at the White House Jan. 9. The U.N. office said Jan. 12 that Trump's reported use Jan. 11 of an expletive to describe Haiti and other countries could "potentially damage and disrupt the lives of many people." (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

On Friday, Jan. 12, as President Donald J. Trump left an event marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a reporter shouted out: “Mr. President, are you racist?” Asking that question would once have been a shocking breach of decorum. But lately it is a question many Americans are asking themselves. The latest catalyst are reports that President Trump described African countries as “shitholes” during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators over the terms of a deal to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The media has run with this controversy. But the real story is not that Mr. Trump made racist comments. Evidence of his racial animus abounds, going back decades. “Shithole countries” is not even the worst thing the president has said.

The real story is that despite the fact that the president is, by many people’s accounts, a racist, those who care about immigration reform still need to work with him. The only way we will protect our families and friends from deportation is by obtaining his signature on a “Dream Act” to preserve DACA provisions. The stakes could not be higher. This is the true horror of the predicament of racism: The oppressed have no option but to learn how to navigate life in a fundamentally racist society. What choice do we have?

The real story is that despite the fact that the president is, by many people’s accounts, a racist, those who care about immigration reform still need to work with him.

As people of color, we learn to navigate institutions and spaces defined by white supremacy. This means political candidates who must take care not to alienate white voters. It means workers who must hold their tongues when their bosses say something insensitive. It means actors who plays stereotypes on screen to pay the bills. It means students for whom overcoming the achievement gap means succeeding in the very academic system that has created the achievement gap in the first place. In short, our lives are full of compromises with racism already. What choice do we have?

Mr. Trump being the final decider of a DACA deal is an extreme version of a common reality for all people of color: The keys to what we need to get ahead, or just plain survive, are held by people who, in many cases, believe we do not belong. Democrats, and the Republicans who understand Dreamers are owed protection, could take a lesson from people of color around the country in how to navigate a political process tainted by racism. The lives of 800,000 Dreamers depend on it.

The more immediate practical tragedy of the “shithole” comment is that it worsens the prospects for a DACA deal. Mr. Trump’s racist comments makes the politics of giving him the concessions he wants in exchange for the Dream Act so much harder for Democrats. For example, by the terms of last week’s bipartisan deal reached by a group of six Republican and Democratic Senators, Mr. Trump could have secured some of his own priorities, including billions in border security funding that he could quite easily argue constituted his “wall,” as well as an end to the diversity lottery visa program. Most Democrats were prepared to give the president these concessions, though few on the left (least of all me) want to see a border wall or eliminate a path of legal migration. These concessions in exchange for a path to citizenship for Dreamers enjoyed bipartisan support and were understood as necessary to obtain Republican votes and Mr. Trump’s signature. Yet his racist outburst and rejection of the bipartisan deal instead led us into a government shutdown.

If a grotesque monument to his xenophobia in the form of a border wall is the price the president demands, then it will be yet another compromise with racism this country has forced on communities of color.

Republican anti-immigration hard-liners with no intention of protecting Dreamers were surely pleased at this turn of events. And Democrats have less reason to offer concessions that now seem part of an all-out war on immigrants, especially those of color. But to secure a deal on DACA, some concessions will be necessary. We do not like this fact, but we have no choice but to deal with it.

The demands of some Republicans like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas that Democrats reduce legal immigration must never be considered. Nor should any proposal that would put the parents of Dreamers at risk. But if the Dreamers are hostages, we must not doubt that Mr. Trump and Republicans are willing to shoot them. If a grotesque monument to his xenophobia in the form of a border wall is the price the president demands, then it will be yet another compromise with racism this country has forced on communities of color.

Of course, the best way for Mr. Trump to “prove” he is not a racist would be simply to pass the Dream Act. What better antidote to the devastating optics of civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis calling you a racist than embracing a path to citizenship for 800,000 young, largely minority, undocumented immigrants?

The image of this president signing such a bill would be endlessly frustrating. But I would shake his hand and thank him and stand behind him and clap at a signing ceremony if that is what it takes. It would not be the first time that communities of color had to play nice with a racist to get something more important done.

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JR Cosgrove
6 years 4 months ago

I think the author and editors should remove the word "racist" from the headline and article.

If Trump is a racist, why did Jesse Jackson give him a lifetime award for helping the African American community?

But the real story is the demagoguing by the left on this issue.

Why did Senator Durbin go immediately to a microphone when he has heard much much worse rhetoric in private meetings? He has unnecessarily sent the country into conflict to get a political advantage. That should be the story that America, the magazine, should be upset about.

Juan Pablo Hurtado
6 years 4 months ago

Prize or no prize he is behaving as a racist and thus he is one. It should not be more complicated than that, and what democrats do or not do doesn't change the facts of what he said and did. We really need to evolve from playground blame logic.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 4 months ago

Prize or no prize he is behaving as a racist and thus he is one

The prize was given for his actions.

How is he behaving as a racist? Can you point to anything Trump is now doing that is racist. Please don't use language as an example because at the meeting he also called for more Asian immigrants which would undermine that he is racist.

More importantly, what actions has he taken that are racist because Jesse Jackson praised his actions?

The real issue is why did Durbin immediately go to the media to create a firestorm.

This is nothing more than a long line of attacks on Trump,. First, he was sexist, then he colluded with Russians, then he was racist, then he was sexist again, then mentally unfit, then racist again. It is all political.

But the Immigration policy of the United States is definitely racist. Very few countries with white Caucasian populations are allowed into the United States. Maybe Trump was trying to correct this racist policy when he mentioned Norway. Almost no one from Norway has been allowed to immigrate into the US in the last 30 years.

Jim MacGregor
6 years 4 months ago

Please define what you mean by a “racist” so that the readers of your comment can watch out for that.

rose-ellen caminer
6 years 4 months ago

In fairness to Trump, he has not called for the deportation of DACA dreamers. He has called for the legislature to do comprehensive immigration reform. He wants a wall, he wants to stop chain migration and diversity lotto and to stop Muslim refugees of war and persecution from coming here. He ran and got elected on the issue of illegal immigration and banning Muslims. Right or wrong there is a constituency who want immigration reform. About DACA dreamers he has specifically said he wants compassion for them. Demanding a solution to Dreamers as a stand alone issue, as if they were in danger of being rounded up and separated from their families, is unnecessary and unfair to other people who are also at the mercy of our immigration laws.

There are refugees and other immigrants here who now actually ARE separated from their loved ones, a spouse languishing in a refugee camp from Congo while the husband is here, for example. These separated families have received little attention by the politicians and media as the DACA dreamers have gotten all the focus and empathy.

A lot of the reforms Trump and the right wing Republicans are calling for and the Dems and others oppose is why the need is to negotiate a compromise, and stop making it about Trump and his beliefs OR about DACA dreamers exclusively.

I personally think merit based immigration is wrong; people migrate for their survival and well being, and that has always been the case on earth. For the US to now see immigrants for their value as well oiled cogs in a machine called America, is callous and in humane. Especially as we are a country comprised of people escaping war, injustice , persecution and tyranny, for us to now only want people who already have it made, makes us more like a corporation looking to maximize our profits. As the left says; it make us lose our soul. Capitalism can and should enhance empathy towards the needy, we are told. This 21st century phrase " merit based immigration" for a country forged on being a refuge for freedom seeking oppressed people makes 21 st capitalism , not socialism, the dirty word.

And for the US , with our bases all over the world, our military incursions here there and everywhere, our veto power at the UN where the fates of other people is often contingent with our super power policies towards them, to ban people from these very countries we are involved in, is truly reprehensible.

The prudence of a wall I don't pretend to know ; its feasibility or necessity or cost .But until we have one economy world, neither do I subscribe to the Dems position that undocumented workers are doing jobs no one else will, or that fair wages are not undermined by undocumented workers. I do not see the decades long complaint against Illegal immigration as a racial issue, no matter how many times the Dems say it is. It's a fairness issue; economic and, generally[ people applying who have to wait years and get vetted].

Jim MacGregor
6 years 4 months ago


Dan Acosta
6 years 4 months ago

You are not a citizen of this country. What makes you think the US government owes you anything more than safe passage to the border of the country from which your parents brought you illegally? Don't you realize you are a pawn being used by both Republican and Democratic legislators in order to keep their cushy jobs?

Robert Nalley
6 years 4 months ago

Since the young author of this article is working for a JESUIT magazine, I would hope his employers teach him about making DISTINCTIONS. The comments that have already been contributed raise valid concerns about his oversimplified and at times inappropriate terminology. Someone once said, "wherever you draw your line in the sands of history, will determine your perspective." If we draw a line at Mr Obama's promise to "change the nature of this Country as we know it", we might understand that the "Dreamers" have been pawns in a cynical political maneuvering to create another sub-class of persons dependent on Democrat politicians.

Jim MacGregor
6 years 4 months ago

Why do people say that Trump should “pass” the dream act? Words mean something and can also disclose either an underlying, hidden bigotry of people or gross ignorance on their part of the facts that they are representing. POTUS does not “pass” laws. He does sign them. Congress passes bills. Therein lies the underlying bigotry against Mr Trump. He has asked Congress to pass the DACA bill so he could sign it. He did however add the stipulation that he wanted his wall (dumb idea!). So, the issue seems to be POTUS’ wall and not DACA.
The wall is not bigotry. It is stupidity. Walls don’t work. Witness the Great Wall of China, the Antonine wall, Hadrian’s wall, and probably other examples.

Jim MacGregor
6 years 4 months ago

As a teenager I worked at America. I remember the thought processes and integrity of the stafff. Lately your articles move me to ask, “Where do you get these writers from?”

Jim MacGregor
6 years 4 months ago

OBTW - RE: “ Mr. Trump’s racist comments makes the politics of giving him the concessions he wants in exchange for the Dream Act so much harder for Democrats. ”
Racist? Really? I find this the epithet to be very descriptive of the politics and graft in numerous countries (and DC?).

Charles Erlinger
6 years 4 months ago

I am still hoping to see a more analytical exposition of the potential for, as well as the obstacles to, developing a piece of legislation that can become law with regard to the individuals affected by the termination of the deportation deferment. While it is fairly easy to diagram the points of tangency and the divergence between the Senate’s bill S1615 (Dream Act) proposed by Graham, Durbin and others, on the one hand, and the more restrictive counter proposal by Senators Lankford, Hatch and Tillis, on the other hand, comparing these two propositions to the House position articulated by Ryan is much more involved. Presumably any serious effort would have to take into consideration not only a position that could be supported by at least 60 senators, but also one that could be supported by a majority in the House. The state of analysis surely must surpass the simplistic advocacy approach taken in this article.

Advocacy is a perfectly legitimate form of expression in this context, but a careful delineation of the moral, political and pragmatic issues, and how they might be integrated in an effort that could actually produce signed legislation would interest at least some of your readers.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 4 months ago

One way to test the Democrats is that anyone identified by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could be granted residence but no path to citizenship other than to go through the process where they compete with others of their origination country for entry into the US as an immigrant. This would mean that most would never become citizens but a small number would if they followed the law set up for immigration. This would apply to any family members who also are admitted.

Erik Kengaard
6 years 4 months ago

Many are not in favor of high levels of immigration - because the increase in population level decreases their quality of life ($ for rent, housing, tuition; crime, welfare). For them, it's not about immigrants, but immigration - the numbers (see NumbersUSA.org).
That is why the Securing America's Future Act makes sense.
Those who benefit from increased population (the 1%) will, of course, use their influence [$] with congress (remember what Charles "I certainly hope so" Keating said - look up Keating five) and their control of the media to prevent the Securing America's Future Act from becoming law. See for example wrt a similar act http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/six-bogus-arguments-against-trumps-immigration-reform-bill/article/2631734
The 1% will be supported by the compassionate [aka useful non-thinkers] who are easily led. Those same compassionates will continue to complain about the high cost of rent, price of houses, college tuition, etc., without understanding cause and effect.
Compassion is in no way a sound basis for policy.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 4 months ago

The author asserts in two sentences that "no proposal that puts the parents of Dreamers at risk should ever be considered"
The basic reason the Dreamers have for their argument against deportation stems from their lack of choice as a minor in being brought illegally to this country by their parents. Just how does that "excuse/justification " apply to the Dreamer parents who quite clearly made a choice that is illegal?
For Mr De Loera-Brust to have the temerity to condition the entire DACA debate on including the parents may perhaps be understandable from his perspective but it certainly is myopically self centered and has the sound of hutzpah to those otherwise trying to help him.

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