To no one’s surprise, the Trump administration will not grant Bahamians fleeing their hurricane-ravaged islands Temporary Protected Status, a special immigration designation that would allow them to live and work in the United States until it’s safe to return home.
That, in short, is ridiculous: A massive hurricane striking an island nation is practically a textbook definition of the sort of humanitarian crises that Congress had in mind when it created the program. If Bahamians don’t qualify, then exactly who does?
With his sagging approval ratings and 60 percent of Americans anticipating an economic recession, President Trump is resorting to his favorite racist trope to keep his base loyal: his perceived criminality of black and brown people. When about 100 Bahamian evacuees were forced to disembark from a Florida-bound ferry, Trump claimed the country needed to “very careful” about who was allowed on American soil.
“Everybody needs totally proper documentation, because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump told the press. “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
As usual, he offered no evidence to back up his claims.
In the minds of Trump and his supporters, any person of color entering this country is a potential terrorist or gangbanger. Skin tone or ethnicity alone makes them suspect. To put this in the most Trumpian terms possible: The president is convinced the Bahamas isn’t sending its best.
That’s what Trump said about Mexican immigrants four years ago when he launched his presidential campaign. Instead of evolving, his white nationalist viewpoint has concretized in the White House. There’s no room for humanitarian policies.
After Hurricane Dorian, which left at least 50 people dead, the last thing Trump wanted were scenes of black men, women, and children streaming into the United States. That does not fit his “America First” brand, which is thinly veiled code for “white America only.” Throughout his presidency, he has stirred rancor about Central American migrants at the southern border. He has often evoked the word “invasion” to dehumanize them, making it easier to separate families, put children in cages, or send them into an under-regulated foster care system where some children have allegedly been physically or sexually abused.
Now it’s happening to Bahamian children. Last Sunday, Customs and Border Protection officials separated a 12-year-old evacuee from her family at a Florida airport and sent her to a shelter for abused or abandoned children. She was taken from her godmother because the woman is not the child’s biological parent.
In the Trump administration, cruelty is certainly the point. It’s also a proven Trump strategy. Whatever else is failing in this presidency — including the economic success he largely inherited from President Obama — his verbal and political abuse of people of color will always be a constant reminder to his base as to why they voted for him in the first place.
Unless the next natural disaster happens to hit Norway, don’t count on the president changing his tune. Racism got Trump to the White House. As his poll numbers dive and his administration grows ever more chaotic, he’s counting on racism to help him win again.