January 12, 2018

President Trump’s atomic comments Thursday during a White House meeting with congressional lawmakers about immigration trampled the red line of racism, bigotry and prejudice — from which there is no return. Until now, I have been reluctant to label Trump a racist, noting the important differences between racism, bigotry and prejudice.

Isn’t it ironic that on the eve of two monumental anniversaries — the mega-earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed at least 300,000 on Jan. 12, 2010, and the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, 1929 — Trump asked why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America rather than people from places like Norway?

Neither the White House nor Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American who was at the meeting, disputed the president’s remarks nor condemned them. Why not? Sen. Marco Rubio, who resides in Miami-Dade County, with one of the largest concentrations of Haitians in the nation, has been stunningly silent. Finally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an ardent supporter of Trump and would-be candidate for U.S. senator, distanced himself from Trump’s comments, but only conditionally: “If this report is true.”

American values like liberty, equality, self-government, individualism, diversity and unity do not derive from the benefactors and heirlooms of enslavement, racial segregation and white privilege; they descend from the emigrants from the countries Trump disparages: These are the courageous people who have defended this nation in every war since its inception, even against the benefactors and heirlooms of white nationalism. I don’t get it: Perhaps Trump believes that pandering racialized vulgarities to white Nordic folk will inspire the Norwegian Nobel Committee to create a “Nobel Chaos Prize.” Not.

Let’s agree that the president’s comments do not represent Americans or American values and ideals. Let’s also agree that we are a nation of immigrants and that black and brown Americans from countries dissed by Trump built and defended America in enslaved and segregated circumstances. America was not built by Nordic Vikings nor their progeny, yet Trump seems to want to limit immigration to whites who believe in Valhalla and “The Song of the Hooded One,” not in Jesus and our national anthem.

I have lived all over the world. I spent the bulk of my time in countries Trump finds so odious. Let me assert that Americans can learn a great deal from people in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. In these regions, people are filled with faith, hope, and courage. They are cultured, well-traveled and often trilingual. Despite centuries of European and American colonial rule and exploitation, these folk maintain strong family and community values. In fact, they cherish the unit of the family over the individual. They work hard for pennies on the dollar. Some families in the most underdeveloped nations live on less than a $1 a day, yet they will feed, clothe and house a foreigner or stranger before themselves. Americans? Many of us walk past homeless people every day without a care.

Immigrants from the developing world highly value education, family and faith in God, and they don’t throw away their sick and elderly. In fact, they are the very backbone of health-care professionals in the United States who care for aging Americans — those mothers and fathers we have forsaken to hospices and nursing homes. Know this: Immigrants continue to fortify traditional American values that are decaying, values we are quick to forget: liberty, equality, diversity and justice. These good people are also integral to our economy. Immigrants toil in the fields to harvest fruits and vegetables; their muscle and sinew build our roads and bridges; they tend to our sick; they treat our illnesses. Immigrants innovate science and technology and, perhaps most important, they create jobs. America without immigrants would be like mayonnaise without bread. Then again, maybe that’s what Trump wants: not “America First” but “Mayonnaise First.”

A recent Harvard Business Review noted that immigrants are more entrepreneurial than Americans. Why? They have extensive cross-cultural experience — that is, a higher ability to “identify promising business ideas” and generate diverse ideas and solutions based on the different cultures they encounter and navigate. In fact, immigrants are almost twice as likely as native-born U.S. citizens to become entrepreneurs; they represent nearly 30 percent of America’s entrepreneurs.

What Trump and Trumpians don’t understand is that America embraces immigrants from the developing world because the majority of us descend from it. And without that, we would be a shithole.

Jeremy Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at the Florida A&M University College of Law. @drjeremylevitt

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