Fear and Hate in Alabama and Beyond: Narratives of Immigration in the Trump Campaign
Dr. Silvia Giagnoni is an independent scholar and writer who lives between Alabama and Tuscany. She writes both in English and in Italian about immigration and social justice issues. Her most recent book is Here we May Rest. Alabama Immigrants in the Age of HB56 (New South Books 2017). You may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
In August 2015, in one of his first appearances as President-hopeful, Donald Trump galvanized his audience in Mobile, Alabama, by criminalizing immigrants and attacking sanctuary cities. Capitalizing on fear, he referred to the tragic deaths of two white women by the hands of undocumented immigrants. Trump knew those high-profile cases would resonate with Alabamians who have been fed similar rhetoric by Fox News and its echo chamber on the web. This essay explores the use of hate speech and negative portrayals of immigrants during the presidential campaign of Donald Trump with particular attention to the progressive criminalization of foreign-born individuals and Mexicans specifically. It also points to the current discourse dominated today in conservative media by the narrative of security, a narrative that today lumps together illegal immigration, crime, and terrorism. The essay investigates how such narrative has been reproduced by politicians and media pundits: to begin with, by Kansas Secretary of State and attorney Kris Kobach, who drafted the harshest state-level, anti-immigration bill that passed in 2011 in Alabama, HB 56, which represented an experiment in the “removal by attrition” (or self-deportation) strategy; by the former U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, once a U.S. Senator from Mobile, renown for being “tough on crime” and for his restrictionist stance on immigration; and by the once-Fox News TV host, Bill O’Reilly, who spearheaded the efforts to pass a law that further criminalize immigrants by establishing mandatory minimums for illegal reentry. The essay explores the role played by self-segregation in reinforcing stereotypical ideas about “the Other;” explains why immigration is the perfect topic to spin; and illustrates the lingering influence of cable TV in “cultivating” views about immigrants. The essay concludes by pointing to the emergence of alternative narratives of immigration in Alabama and beyond and provides further directions for research on the topic.