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The new target of Trump’s anti-immigrant cruelty: refugees from the Bahamas

Refugees of Hurricane Dorian arrive in Nassau. The final death toll from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas could be "staggering," a government minister has said.
Refugees of Hurricane Dorian arrive in Nassau. The final death toll from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas could be "staggering," a government minister has said. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty)

How long will it be until President Donald Trump claims Hurricane Dorian was actually a plot by criminals in the Bahamas to infiltrate the United States? He’s not far from that now, having suggested that “very bad people” were traveling to the hurricane-ravaged nation as a means to gaining entry into the United States. Seriously, this is what he said on Monday in response to reports that a ferry operator kicked off a group of Bahamian refugees who lacked visas to enter the U.S.:

“Everybody needs totally proper documentation. Because, look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there,” he told reporters. "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 very bad gang members.”

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He said this about Bahamians who’ve suffered tragic losses and as the nation headed into the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks from some actual “very bad people” — people he earlier invited to meet at Camp David on Sunday before cancelling the event at the last minute.

Hours before he made his comments, Mr. Trump’s own head of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, had said that Bahamians would be allowed into the United States whether they had documents or not and that they would be processed and vetted by his agency as quickly as possible. In any other administration, that would have gone without saying. We would have recognized a moral imperative to help people threatened by a massive humanitarian disaster 50 miles off the Florida coast. Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with many other lawmakers from both parties, are urging the administration to loosen visa restrictions further to address the crisis.

But President Trump’s hatred for immigrants is undiminished by any manner of suffering they may have endured in their home countries. Today, the administration is scheduled to meet to discuss further reductions in the limit on the number of refugees it allows into the United States. For two years, Mr. Trump and his anti-immigrant id, Stephen Miller, have been pushing the number ever downward even as the number of people worldwide fleeing war and famine rises to historic proportions. The current level, 30,000 people, is down about 70% from what it was under the Obama administration, and now the debate is over whether to cut it by half or more again or perhaps set the limit all the way to zero with the option for the president to allow some refugees in at his discretion.

Not only would such a cut completely abdicate America’s role as a protector of the vulnerable and leave open the world’s moral leadership to other nations, it would also put our national security at risk. That’s the argument former Defense Secretary James Mattis made when the Trump administration considered such cuts previously. A strong refugee resettlement program is necessary, he and other current and former U.S. military leaders have argued, to maintain strong relations with allies and to protect those who put themselves in harm’s way by helping American troops in danger zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Two dozen former generals and admirals wrote to the White House this month to argue that cutting the refugee program so drastically will only make U.S. military intervention abroad more likely.

“When America turns its back on refugees, we are challenged to call on our allies to accept them, ultimately risking premature returns, like those of Syrians back to an unstable Syria, Somalis back to an unstable Somalia and Afghans back to an unstable Afghanistan,” they wrote. “Such premature returns not only put refugees in harm’s way, they also further cycles of instability and insecurity in critical regions, increasing pressure on military action."

But whether it is refugees from war-torn nations across the globe, migrants seeking to escape gang violence in Central America or Bahamians whose entire communities were just wiped out by Dorian, President Trump is blind to our national interest, our historical commitments or even our basic human decency. All he sees are criminals and terrorists among the innocent, and potential allies among our historical enemies (see the Taliban and Trump bestie, Vladimir Putin). He said it when he launched his campaign four years ago with the accusation that Mexico was “sending” criminals and rapists across our border. He said it when he claimed “unknown Middle Easterners” had infiltrated a caravan of migrants from Honduras headed toward the U.S. border. And he said it again this week when he claimed unknown criminals and gang members were using the chaos and devastation in the Bahamas to slip into the U.S. His xenophobia is pathological, and this week, when we should be focused on honoring those killed on Sept. 11 and improving our world relations, he has reminded us that it is profoundly cruel.

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