Chinese Exclusion, and the Dangerous Islamophobia of Donald Trump

Trump-Octopus
In the late 19th and early 20th century, racist fears of an impending Yellow Peril swept America and other Western nations, as often representatively depicted by the classic “Mongolian Octopus” political cartoon first published in an Australian newspaper in 1886. Today, the same xenophobia once again rears its ugly head in the form of Islamophobia, yet many of the same racist stereotypes remain. But what if it is those who are whipping up the race-baiting hysteria who pose the real threat? (Photo credit: Modified from “Mongolian Octopus”, Wikimedia)

Yesterday, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump announced his most extremist position to-date. Coincident with the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour which led to unprecedented mass imprisonment of thousands of American citizens based on race, Trump’s presidential campaign released a press statement “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. In a press statement that is thin on specifics as to what exactly Trump means by this suggested policy, he says:

“[I]t is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.

In later interviews, Trump has failed to make it clear whether he plans to restrict travel for all Muslims, including foreign visitors and tourists, or if his plan focuses on immigration. Trump has not specified how his proposal would impact Muslim American citizens who leave the United States with the intent to re-enter their country of citizenship. He has also not elaborated on how he would implement his policy — a religious litmus test for freedom of movement — except to have border agents interrogate all incoming travelers with regard to their religious affiliation and to turn away all who self-identify as Muslim.

It is also worth noting that Islam is the world’s second largest religious group, and one quarter of the world’s Muslims are South and Southeast Asian. A ban on all Muslim travel would have significant impact on the AAPI community, including (among others) Pakistani-, Bangladeshi-, Indonesian-, and Malaysian American people.

Sadly, the Asian American community is already all too painfully familiar with this kind of identity-based policy of national exclusion. In 1882, the federal government passed its first immigration law banning the travel of members of an entire race of people based solely on our shared identity. We called it the Chinese Exclusion Act.

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Asian Americans, We Must Stand Strong with our Undocumented Immigrants | #MyAsianAmericanStory

The falsified documents of a Chinese American so-called "paper son".
The naturalization papers of a Chinese American immigrant.

Whether it is Donald Trump’s verbal caricature of overseas Chinese businessmen, or Jeb Bush’s proclamation that when it comes to “anchor babies” the issue is “more related to Asian[s]”, or Carly Fiorina’s lamentations over the “industry” of Chinese women having babies in the United States, one thing has become clear: the Right-wing of American politics is now firmly entrenched in a platform of anti-immigrant nativism filtered through the lens of sinophobia. Much of that xenophobic rhetoric comes in the form of railing against undocumented immigrants, whom Trump characterized in his campaign announcement speech as “criminals”, “rapists” and “murderers”.

Two thirds of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are foreign-born according to the Center for American Progress’ State of Asian America report released last year, and 40% of America’s immigrants currently call an Asian country the place of their birth. Of those approximately 10 million foreign-born AAPIs, 1.3 million (or 1 in every 8) are undocumented immigrants. These numbers also suggest that currently, approximately 1 in every 9 undocumented immigrants is AAPI.  Those numbers are on the rise: over the last decade, the overall Asian undocumented population has doubled, with the undocumented population originating from India, South Korea and China having grown by as much as 300%.  Considered alongside evidence showing that undocumented immigration from Mexico has slowed in recent years, Asian Americans are now the fastest growing undocumented population in America leaving one National Journal reporter to suggest that “someone tell Don­ald Trump that he’s pick­ing on the wrong im­mig­rants.”

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Trump Mocks Asian Speech Patterns in Campaign Speech

Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump
Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump

Oh, hell no.

Less than an hour after Donald Trump ejected Univision reporter Jorge Ramos from a press conference in Iowa, the buffoonish moppet-topped businessman turned presidential hopeful adopted broken English (and possible stereotypically Asian r/l slurring) in a campaign speech (video after the jump). Trump was apparently trying to mimic Japanese or Chinese businessmen.

Earlier, in that same press conference where Ramos later went on to openly confront Trump on his anti-Latino rhetoric, Trump also suggested that undocumented immigrant gang members had sparked riots in Ferguson, referred to Asia as a “country”, demanded an apology from Megyn Kelly for asking questions relevant to feminism, and promised to immediately expel all undocumented  immigrants from the American soil with an invitation for “good ones” to return.

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Birthright Citizenship and How the GOP is Abandoning Asian American Voters

jindal-trump

Asian Americans voters are America’s fastest growing population of voters, growing from 1.6% of registered voters in 1996 to 3.4% in 2012. Not only are we a sizable share of the electorate but we often cast our ballots as a unified voting bloc: in 2008 and 2012, nearly three quarters of voters cast their ballot for President Barack Obama in the general election, and in many states, Asian American votes might well have swung the election outcome.

Despite the Asian American community’s strong turnout for a Democratic candidate in the last two general presidential elections, the Asian American electorate is also unique in that it remains uncommitted to either of this country’s two major political parties. In California, for example, one fifth of Asian American voters describe themselves as politically unaffiliated despite their typically left-leaning politics, and in Texas, Asian American voters are equally divided between Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. These electorate characteristics have led many politicos to speculate that the Asian American vote may be a “persuadable” electorate, amenable to being wooed and won by either party.

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