How Trump uses language to divide

(Illustration by Abigail Katz | Staff Illustrator)

We are no longer a nation of immigrants. In fact, it seems we’d rather not entertain the tired, poor and huddled masses — or their better-off, more educated peers — at all.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said as much in an email sent out to staff Feb. 22, announcing that it would be changing its mission statement.

According to the old statement, “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

Immigrants were “customers” in this transaction to whom we owed a service — they were human beings.

That isn’t the case with the new mission statement. In a striking about-face, it reads, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

The change has stricken America’s history as a nation of immigrants cleanly from the USCIS’s mission. It now advertises itself as an organization that is pro-American, at the expense of the immigrants it’s expressly meant to serve. And once again, this shift against a marginalized group of people in the United States is being executed through a seemingly innocuous, yet highly effective, means — language.

Evidently, U.S. immigration services are no longer for immigrants. In fact, in no uncertain language, the new statement turns immigrants into an enemy — one that warrants protecting American citizens from the evils foreigners bring into our homeland, including questionable cultures and morals that would destroy the pristine values of our country.

Given the xenophobic, exclusionary language that’s been lobbed around by politicians at an increasingly frequent rate lately — just days ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump brought back his rendition of “The Snake,” a song that he’s repurposed as an anti-immigration anthem — this most recent move by the USCIS is hardly surprising. But it’s still incredibly troubling.

Historically, the purpose of the USCIS was never to protect Americans or secure the homeland. The Immigration and Naturalization Service split into three smaller organizations to control immigration in 2003. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection were created to enforce immigration law and protect Americans from border threats. USCIS was meant to be in charge of assisting people in their quest for citizenship. The new statement describes more accurately the function of ICE and CBP than USCIS.

And this isn’t the first time Trump’s Washington, D.C., has used political language as a weapon. In the last weeks of 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would no longer be permitted to use seven terms: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” In some cases, replacement words were not suggested.

Striking these words was an Orwellian show of force that greatly limits the breadth of dialogue we can have on issues such as abortion rights and gender identity. In forbidding these words, the CDC is effectively silenced from providing information on these topics in an informative, beneficial manner — which is the purpose of the organization. It’s hard not to see the move as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community and women’s reproductive rights.

This isn’t the only instance of a linguistic war against women’s health from the Trump administration. A February report from Politico described how the language of the State Department’s annual human rights report has pared down passages on reproductive health, abortion, contraceptives, racial and sexual harassment and family planning. In the past, these issues have been central to the report.

The Trump administration is notorious for carefully filtering the information it releases to the public. But it’s also taken the liberty to pick and choose exactly which public it includes in its chicanery.

Shortly after the president took office, the White House took down its Spanish-language website, with the promise that a new one was on its way. More than a year later, we’re still waiting. The Trump administration has left the 41 million American citizens for whom Spanish is a native language without resources, excluding them from the White House’s dealings in a move that feels like purposeful isolation.

Language is power. Any politician knows that and uses it to their advantage. But the ostracizing, belligerent tactics used by the Trump administration are overstepping an important boundary. The administration is excluding huge demographics from politics, forbidding discussion of race, sexual orientation and reproductive rights and making villains of people who, in spite of everything our president has said against them, still have a vision of the American Dream.

Words are a seemingly innocuous thing, until they’re used systematically against you. Beware the language politics of the Trump administration.

Maggie primarily writes about social issues and economics for The Pitt News. Write to Maggie at mad338@pitt.edu.

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