For this national political season President Donald Trump has found a new “Willie Horton” to inflame his base — the caravan approaching from south of the border.
During the 1988 presidential election campaign, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush and his allies used Horton — a convicted murderer who fled during a weekend furlough and then committed additional heinous crimes before being captured — to say Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis and his party were weak on crime.
Today similar tactics are being used by Trump to raise fears over a caravan of several thousand Hispanics, mostly from Central America, with many being women and children, seeking to escape the horrors in their own countries and find asylum in the United States.
Trump claims those in the caravan, which by some estimates is not expected to reach the U.S. border for 60 days or more, will illegally enter our country bringing diseases and crime. The president is sending as many as 15,000 of our troops to the border to stop them. Trump has added that if those in the caravan throw rocks or stones, the troops should fire on them.
The U.S. has a long history of welcoming those seeking a new life in our country, but in the past it also has been less welcoming to many, including the Irish, Catholics, Jews, Chinese and others.
In 1939, the SS St. Louis, a passenger vessel sailing under the German flag, attempted to bring more than 900 individuals, the majority Jews, fleeing Nazi-ruled Germany to safe harbor. They were refused entry to the U.S. because our then immigration policies were based on domestic political sentiment, rather than humanitarian grounds. New foreigners were not wanted! Similar attitudes faced these refugees when they were taken to Cuba and Canada. While some survived after being accepted in some European countries, many died in what we now know as the Holocaust.
Then U.S. sentiment was against the St. Louis refugees. Trump is now rallying similar sentiment against this new group of refuge seekers. Have we forgotten our past and what can happen if we once again reject the ideals on the base of our Statue of Liberty? — Bernard Biernacki, Aurora