Trump’s Politics of Exclusion

People who want to visit the United States could be asked to hand over their social-media passwords to officials as part of enhanced security checks, the country's top domestic security chief said the other day.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress on February 7 the measure was one of several being considered to vet refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?" he told the House Homeland Security Committee. "If they don't want to cooperate then you don't come in."

His comments came the same day judges heard arguments over President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily barring entry to most refugees and travellers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

Kelly, a Trump appointee, stressed that asking for people's passwords was just one of "the things that we're thinking about" and that none of the suggestions were concrete.

Under the existing vetting process, according to Kelly, officials "don't have a lot to work with," relying on the applicant's documentation and asking them questions about their background.

He said this was even more problematic when dealing with so-called "failed states" such as Syria or Somalia, where infrastructure and record-keeping has been degraded by conflict.

As well as asking people for their passwords, Kelly said he was looking at trying to obtain people's financial records.

Obtaining visitors' passwords was considered by top officials at the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration, but the policy was never adopted.

Visa holders, refugees, and US permanent residents from the seven predominantly Muslim countries on the list are already among the people most tightly and comprehensively vetted by US immigration and intelligence authorities, so it's hard to understand how Trump's move will bring added security.

What this is all about isn't national security. It's about keeping America Snow White and Prince Charming Christian.

It's about immigration, in short.

And it's the opening salvo of Trump's determined effort to make religion a criterion for becoming part of American society. Whenever he pronounced the three words "radical Islamic terrorist" during his presidential campaign, he always put the stress on the second word, "Islamic," and continually attacked former President Barack Obama's refusal to dignify his demagogical effort to promote the idea that Islam promotes terrorism.

Trump is building a wall to keep out Mexican workers. But "Mexican" for him and his followers doesn't only refer to Mexicans, but to all Latinos. When he attacks China for what he considers unfair trading practices, he's not just talking about trade. China is also a code-word for the stereotypical crafty Asian taking advantage of the American people. Even children get it, as Asian American youngsters taunted by their peers at school would testify.

Trump's immigration policy, security policy, and economic policy are all intertwined, and the lynchpin of the package is fear of the Other—that is, fear of those who are non-white and non-Christian. He's both a creator and a creature of the new nativist movement that draws deep from the wellsprings of American prejudices about Latinos, Asians, Blacks and Muslims.

It's a movement fed by what he and his followers regard as a cataclysmic event: that in a few more years, white Americans will no longer be the majority of the population.

Trump will surely issue more executive orders on immigration, and he's sure to push for comprehensive immigration legislation along right-wing lines. But even if these fail or are delayed, current immigration procedures and legislation already provide him with a lot of power to practise his exclusionary politics.

Immigration policy and processes are extraordinarily susceptible to subjective assessments and informal rules, whatever the laws on books say. Anyone who's applied for a visa to go to the United States knows that they're at the mercy of their interviewer and prey to his or her quirks, biases, and moods.

Everyone who endures this process takes it for granted that there are quotas for different categories of people, even when those quotas aren't formally set. Race, class, and ethnicity aren't supposed to matter in assessing one's qualifications to migrate to the United States, but everyone knows that at the top of the preferred migrants or visitors are those from the Anglosphere. And Trump wants to take away even that channel with his plan to eliminate the HIB visa that allows people with speciality occupations to work in the US. And India is going to be hit hard by his H1B Visa rules.

Already highly discretionary in practice, immigration procedures will become even more discretionary under Trump.


Vol. 49, No.34, Feb 26 - Mar 4, 2017