Column: Is President Trump really a racist?

President Trump’s comments about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries have been slammed as blatantly racist, but there is more to the comments than face value suggests.

Brandon Bartlett is a freshman political science major at MU. He is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

President Trump held a meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to talk about immigration issues on Jan. 11. Following the meeting, which was held behind closed doors, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told the press that the president asked, “Why are we having all of these people from sh-thole countries come here?” referring to countries such as Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. President Trump then suggested that the U.S. bring in more immigrants from countries such as Norway, as well as Asian countries. Many media outlets ran wild with this news, claiming the only possible conclusion for what the president said is that he is a blatant racist. I will admit that at face value, the statement could be construed as racist and bigoted. Despite the fact that many Republicans and the president have denied that he said such things, I do not doubt he said it, as Trump is not known to be the most selective with his rhetoric. However, I believe there is a lot of context that is missing from the story that makes the statements seem worse than they really are.

Let’s start off with the fact that the countries the president was talking about are, in fact, not great places. According to the CIA, the poverty rate in Haiti was 58.5 percent as of 2012, and El Salvador’s was 34.9 percent as of 2015. Statistics from worldhunger.org indicate 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on $1.90 or less every day. These people eat so-called “cookies” that are literally made of dirt, according to articles as recent as 2016, just so they can fill their malnourished bodies with something. However, poverty and hunger are not the only major problem these countries face. Haiti and many African countries have less than a 50 percent literacy rate, according to worldatlas.com, and El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world with a homicide rate of 80.94 per 100,000 citizens as of 2016, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council. This is not the fault of the people that inhabit these places, but any country with these kinds of problems in 2018 fail to meet the standards the U.S. and other developed countries have set.

Also, this meeting revolved around the subject of immigration. President Trump said in a press conference and on Twitter that he wants immigrants from everywhere and a merit-based immigration policy. The opposite of a merit-based immigration policy would be the joke that is the Diversity Visa Lottery currently in place in the U.S. The DVL is a system that makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually that are provided to people from countries underrepresented in immigration to the U.S. at random, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The only factor that is used to decide who the recipients of these visas will be is their country of origin. It is possible that the conversation in the meeting was on the subject of this immigration policy, with Trump suggesting if the U.S. is going to take people in based off their country of origin, it should at least take them from stable countries. The average income in Haiti, which Trump referred to as a sh-thole, is $817 per year, whereas the income of Norway is just over 100 times more at $82,440 per year. Bringing people into the U.S. that have basically no money is just asking for problems. There are many immigrants who cannot get on any social services for their first five years or longer in the U.S., and the poverty they continue to live in doesn’t do them or the United States any good. Furthermore, after that five or so years, a large amount of them use welfare and other social services. According to an article from USA Today, “51% of immigrant-led households receive at least one kind of welfare benefit, including Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, and housing assistance.”

Medicare/Medicaid is the largest budget item in the U.S. and one of the greatest forces driving the country further into debt, according to usdebtclock.org. Why would we bring in an enormous amount of low-income immigrants into the U.S. when trying to cut down on such expenses? This is not to say that many immigrants do not become successful after they come to the U.S. and begin their new lives. In fact, 37 percent of Nigerian immigrants attain a bachelor’s degree according to chron.com, and migrationpolicy.org states that Asian immigrants are known to do better in education than most, if not all, other immigrants and native citizens.

I understand how the statement by President Trump sounds racist, but as responsible citizens, we need to consider the context of such statements before undermining the point he was trying to make. In truth, the president needs to be more selective with his statements in the future, but he makes an important point about the flaws in our current immigration system.

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