President Trump spins plenty of “bull” and bluntly said he, “tells the truth– -when he can.” Which, perhaps because he is president, means he can tell lies when he deems it in the best interest of America. Lately, he has focused on one major divineness that appears to separate the country-immigration. The group of Guatemalans trying to make its way through Mexico to the U.S. (often times referred to as the “caravan”) has become a clear target for Tump as he tries to bolster support for Republicans in the midterm election. Trump calls the Guatemalans “invaders,” and is sending troops to the border to stave off his self-described “invasion.”
But is Trump just spreading inflammatory and racist rhetoric, or is he just channeling and protecting a centuries-old philosophy that indeed lead to the great invasion and subsequent occupation of 1492? Those first European invaders brought with them the “right of discovery,” and the usurpation of land and subjection of Indigenous people.
In a Papal Bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, essentially proclaims that the European Kings and Queens have the divine right to colonize. The Bull, or decree, referred to as “Inter Caetera,” (among other things) essentially carves the world in half and grants authority and jurisdiction to occupy—– “..And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind…”
So we see that the first invaders ( and all those who followed) believed they had a god given right to exercise said authority and jurisdiction over what Indigenous people called Turtle Island and called it home. This “divine right” was also passed along to subsequent generations and formed the basis of “manifest destiny,” and conquest–the right to colonize, take land, to convert (and annihilate if necessary).
After the Civil War some states began to pass immigration laws, but in 1875, the Supreme Court ruled that immigration was, in fact, a federal responsibility. Thus Congress passed the first national immigration law in 1875 and thereafter provided the federal government with the authority to manage the waves of immigrants Thereafter many established Americans, began to think that perhaps there were inherent dangers of immigration and became fearful that all these “new invaders” might have negative effects on the economy, politics, and culture. There were quotas put in place on certain . (but not all new immigrants). At one time or another it was the Italians, Jews, the Chinese and particularly the catholic Irish. Some Americans feared that the these new immigrants were largely composed of, “murders and thieves,” and would be a “scourge” upon the American country side. The ships kept coming, in spite of threats to “fire upon them,” and in spite of threats to burn the ships as they reached the harbors. Those colonizers, now called Americans had always been wary of any more immigrants– so much so that new immigration laws were introduced leading to a law enacted in 1921 that imposed quotas (according to nationalities) for the first time. Immigration has always been dark and complicated, full of politics, suspicions, and racism.
Trump, ever convinced that he has much more power and authority than he really possesses, is invoking those primal American fears of immigrants. Comfortably ignoring the fact that he himself is a descendant of invaders, has called for a wall to be built and most presently is sending troops to the border. Of course, the very idea that he (and any other Americans like him) cannot recognize that this group of Guatemalans is incapable of being immigrants and certainly cannot be “invaders.” Prior to 1492, for tens of thousands of years the Indigenous people moved freely up and down the Americas, according to their needs. There were no walls and the very idea of arbitrarily drawn boundary lines was inconceivable. They are also the same Indigenous people whose ancestors suffered greatly at the hands of the original 1492 invaders.
There is much more than a touch of somber irony here. Trump tells us to be wary of this group for surely they are criminals at best and terrorists at worse. Whatever the Guatemalans may bring, will in no way compare to the destruction and devastation brought here by those who followed Columbus. Whether it is purely political or a continuance of something imagined and contrived long before him–calling Indigenous people immigrants, or even worse-invaders–it is a dismal paradoxical moment that should not be lost upon us.