Toward the end of last year, I was scrolling through my news feed when I saw that immigration activist and former Bernie Sanders Latinx outreach strategist Erika Andiola shared an article from The Guardian titled “Hillary Clinton: Europe must curb immigration to stop rightwing populists.” Andiola’s caption? “Please go away.”
Europe restricting immigration would likely lead to the deaths of countless brown lives seeking refuge from war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa. Our global community is #StrongerTogether, and we must not let politicians pull us apart. It’s time we give liberals the same level of scrutiny regarding racism that we do to conservatives.
Secretary Clinton LAW ’73 made these comments at a time when the Trump administration curtailed the number of refugees admitted into the United States to an abhorrent low. There is still a blanket ban on Iranians, Libyans, Somalis, Syrians and Yeminis from entering the United States. Instead of using her platform to mobilize against these historic bans — the logic of which Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 likened to that of Japanese-American internment during World War II — Clinton is doing nearly the opposite, advocating for exporting restrictions to other white-majority countries. This approach toward curbing right-wing populists reeks of white supremacy: It placates white nationalism and presumes a disposability of brown lives.
It is unsurprising that Clinton made these remarks at this moment in history. People of color and working-class people have been pushing the wealthy, historically white base of the Democratic Party to advance more inclusive and expansive policies. For example, many undocumented activists have been challenging the general populace to imagine an abolition of the current immigration apparatus. By aligning herself with Trump’s immigration policies, Clinton implicitly positions herself against a wave of insurgent POC activism that seeks to disrupt longstanding hierarchies in her constituency. To borrow vocabulary from CNN political commentator Van Jones, her comments represent a form of whitelash, a liberal whitelash.
Making Clinton’s comments more egregious is the fact that the U.S. government played — and continues to play — a major role in creating mass violence that forces people from parts of the Middle East and Africa to flee. In our lifetime, Bush administration officials manipulated post-9/11 Islamophobia to invade, occupy and commit mass violence in Iraq in pursuit of cheap oil, causing the deaths of thousands of U.S. troops (many of whom joined the armed services due to the socioeconomic status they were born into in an era of extreme wealth inequality) and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The instability resulting from the U.S. invasion of Iraq instigated even more violence in the region, playing a part in the rise of ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. As senator, Clinton herself voted for mass violence in Iraq, which cost her the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary and should have disqualified her in the 2016 primary.
Not all acts of international violence are as visible as an invasion. President Obama’s decision to supply weapons to the Saudi Arabian government in its proxy war with the Iranian government in Yemen was an act of tremendous violence. Similar to Bush in Iraq, Obama pursued this policy to maintain an oil relationship with the Saudi Arabian government. Tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have died as a result of this conflict, many at the hands of U.S. weaponry.
Instead of taking responsibility for their roles in mass violence abroad and urgently advocating for the welcome of refugees into the U.S., Obama remains mostly silent and Clinton pushes to further restrict emigration possibilities. They advance a form of carceral white supremacy, a system of using mass violence to secure U.S. “strategic interests” and stopping millions of innocent bystanders from fleeing, entrapping them within borders, which too frequently mean a death sentence.
If there were white people fleeing mass violence, wouldn’t we expect liberal politicians to ignore nativist prejudice and push for admitting refugees into the U.S. in today’s day and age? Probably yes, and for good reason. Regardless of the color of our skin, our nationality, our religion and other markers of identity and adversity, we all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The problem extends beyond Obama and Clinton. There are many politicians who voted for mass violence in Iraq who have not been held accountable in popular imagination. Joe Biden is just one of them. But more than just holding individual politicians accountable, we must realize that the problem is endemic to our government. Arms manufacturers that profit from brown death spent over $94 million lobbying our politicians last year, including many who proclaim to fight for social justice.
It’s time we look toward electing leaders who operate on the principle that all lives are worthy of life and that United States foreign and immigration policy should reflect that fact. It’s time that our politicians, our government, let brown people live.
Daniel Hamidi will be graduating from Yale College in 202o. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction, Apr. 27: A previous version of this article stated that Hamidi graduated from Yale College in 2018.