Syrian refugees appeared in Trump’s recently released first televised general election ad, which has recently been re-aired in a number of the states in which the competition is raging for Clinton. The snapshot, which depicts dozens of Syrian refugees standing in place, doesn’t last for longer than a few seconds, but the accompanying voiceover warns viewers that the election of Hillary, who called for increasing the numbers of refugees to 65,000, would allow them to “flood in.” This scene is followed by a depiction of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border and the voice saying that convicted criminals get to remain in the country and get paid with aid (collect social security benefits). As for the Americans, who Trump will lead, “the border will be secure, dangerous terrorists and criminals will be kept abroad, and our families will be safe.”
It is not surprising that racism against immigrants and Islamophobia are the principal themes in Trump’s speeches. He began his campaign for presidential candidacy with an incendiary statement in which he described immigrants coming from Mexico as criminals, drug dealers and rapists. Then he demanded, as is widely known, for the prevention of Muslims from entering the United States. Additionally, last November he described Syrian refugees as a “Trojan Horse” and advised Americans to lock their doors. Last week his son Eric, who works for his father’s campaign, made a contribution stating that Syrian refugees “and illegal immigrants” are the reason behind the stagnation of wages over the past fifteen years.
All of this intimidation comes with the knowledge that the total number of Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the United States over the past five years is 10,000, which is a very small number compared to the huge number of total refugees. The American borders are not wide open to those fleeing wars and conflicts, as is thought by a number of Americans. The small Swedish city Sodertalje welcomed 6,000 Iraqi refugees in 2008, five years after the Iraq invasion and the outbreak of the civil war; more than the total number of Iraqi refugees accepted by the United States between 2003 and 2008.
If in the history of the country there are many examples of accepting refugees from areas of conflict and war, and migrants searching for a better life, there are also many examples of the opposite. Trump will not be the first (in the event he reaches the White House and he delivers on his campaign promises) president to enact racist laws that place restrictions on immigrants of specific ethnic groups during his reign. In 1924, President Coolidge enacted an immigration law that imposed severe restrictions and quotas on the number of immigrants coming from Southern and Eastern Europe (the newspapers from those years are full of racist articles and cartoons that talk about their laziness and dirtiness) and on the total prevention of immigration from Asians and Arabs. This law did not change until 1952. The mainstream environment today is not free from similar conditions. Back then, the United States was suffering from the effects of the economic recession (1920-1921), and the fear of the danger communism was growing; all this in addition to the myth of natural racial superiority. In 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued a decision that put 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent into detention camps on the grounds that they posed a threat to national security. Those camps did not close until 1946.
Trump is the heir of this lineage and history.