Hostility, hospitality and the Trump Administration; newest installment of the Social Equity Lecture Series

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 at 5:53 PM

Hospitality is not just what one seeks at a hotel or in a friend’s home, but also a matter of ethics and human rights when applied to immigration, argued Dr. Andrew Smith during the latest installment of Edinboro University’s Social Equity Lecture Series. 

Smith — a professor of communications and the head of that department’s graduate program — elaborated on current events in a lecture titled, “Discourse Ethics and politics of exclusion; displaced persons, statelessness and the rise of authoritarianism.” 

Setting the tone and laying the groundwork for his lecture, Smith presented quotes from Seyla Benhabib, a Turkish-Sephardic-American philosopher, and Nikhil Singh, an author and associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. 

The quotes, published in 2004 and 2006, explained Smith, are “still highly relevant today but unfortunately little has been done…and the problem is accelerating now under the current president.” 

Smith then went on to lay out the problem and illustrate how people — predominantly immigrants, Latinos and Latinas — are being treated. Here, he looked to cement his point that the actions taken against those people are proof that our current presidential administration is headed towards an authoritarian regime. 

Through a Freedom of Information Act from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Smith explained it can be made clear that the U.S. maintains the largest immigration detention system in the world. Over 360,000 immigrants were detained in 2016. 

“Some detention facilities have no outdoor facilities…verbal, physical and sexual abuse are regularly reported,” he said of the conditions that people are subjected to. 

Not only are these conditions faced by “illegal aliens” in the country, they are also a reality for the thousands of American citizens, mostly Latino, who were detained or deported since 2012, Smith explained. 

ICE apprehensions within the U.S. are at historic highs, while apprehensions at the southern border crossing are at record lows, Smith said. 

Meanwhile, a 2005 report by the United Nations Global Commission on International Migration stated that a person cannot be illegal. This, along with “illegal alien,” “irregular,” or a number of other terms, are simply partisan phrases used to perpetrate private agendas, Smith said. “The language chosen is significant,” he continued. 

“What even is an illegal alien?” Smith mused to the crowd, pulling up a picture of a green Martian-like figure superimposed onto Donald Trump’s face and then another one of a similar alien-like character in a traditional Mexican hat.

“What in the imagination of our leaders — the Trump administration — what’s their image of an ‘illegal alien’ and how they promote that image of an ‘illegal alien?’” Smith asked. “It’s Hispanic, right? It’s Latino. It’s coming across with drugs. It’s coming across with tacos. This is their image.”

He continued: “But here are the real images. These are the real people that are coming across in droves, across the southwest border, being packed into gymnasiums, facing uncertainty, living in makeshift facilities of various kinds.” 

Smith believes that the choice of language, in addition to laws not enacted in numerous states punishing those who help ‘illegals,’ has created an environment with a near total lack of hospitality in America. 

In what seems to be a dire situation — with hundreds of thousands of families being broken up, individuals being detained and deported, homes being destroyed, and our very own country rapidly hurdling towards an authoritarian regime while the private prison population rises — what can be done, Smith asked. 

“What is possible?” he followed with.

“Certainly many of the civil society organizations I’ve mentioned in this talk are working hard on behalf of immigrants in ways and venues too numerous to mention. There’s just hundreds of them, thankfully, that are hard at work, trying to find, advocate for and represent those who have been detained.” 

But one step further, building on the ideas of Benhibib and Walter McKnowlo of Duke University, said Smith, to create a type of global citizenship. 

“These people seek to escape and avoid violence, achieve dignity and respect, make a contribution to society, obtain legitimacy and recognition. [This is] rather than being detained, dehumanized and capitalized upon,” Smith said. “ I’m referring to kind of a super ordinate legal status of global reach that transcends the actual or declared sovereignty of any political power that practices the politics of exclusion.”

Hannah McDonald can be reached 

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